Astex inks oncology deal with J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutica that could yield $500 million

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CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Its plans to take the company public on holdpending improvements in the financial markets, Astex Therapuetics has shownnonetheless that its programs have other ways of generating capital, as onTuesday it announced a research and license deal with Johnson & Johnsonunit Janssen Pharmaceutica that will provide $37.4 million in research andequity payments over two years, with the potential to exceed $500 million infurther milestone payments.

The deal between the two companies centers on the Astex FGFRinhibitor program. Under the licensing deal, Janssen secures worldwideexclusive license to compounds arising from this program. In addition, thecompanies also will establish a new drug discovery alliance focused on theidentification of novel inhibitors against two additional cancer targets.

"This is another landmark agreement for Astex," says HarrenJhoti, CEO of Astex. "This partnership is another testament to Astex's positionas the leader in fragment-based drug discovery and the productivity generatedby our platform."

Under the terms of the agreement, Ortho Biotech Research& Development, the research and development arm of Janssen, will beresponsible for completing all of the pre-clinical and clinical development ofproducts arising from the collaboration and for their commercializationglobally. The agreement also grants Astex an option to co-commercialize FGFRproducts developed under the collaboration in the United States.

FGFR (fibroblast growth factor receptor) is a receptortyrosine kinase which activates the extracellular signal-regulated kinase/mitogen-activatedprotein kinase and the protein kinase B/Akt pathways which promote cell growth,epithelial-mesenchyme transition and survival.
Recent publications havehighlighted the role of activating mutations, amplifications andover-expression of FGFRs in the pathogenesis of a variety of human tumors,including multiple myeloma, breast, prostate, colon and bladder cancers. Astex'sFGFR inhibitors have also shown to have potential as a treatment forangiogenesis.

The highly selective FGFR inhibitors were discovered usingAstex's proprietary fragment-based drug discovery platform, Pyramid, which willalso be employed as an integral part of this new drug discovery program.According to the company, since 2004, Astex has used Pyramid to generate onenew cancer drug candidate for clinical development each year.

Its work in the field has led to number of otherpartnerships with major pharma companies, including Novartis, AstraZeneca, Bayer-Scheringand Boehringer Ingelheim.

For Janssen, the deal with Astex marks the second time ineight months the company has opened its wallet for a pharma partner. LastOctober, it entered into a worldwide, multi-target alliance in rheumatoidarthritis that could pump as much as 1 billion Euro into Galapagos coffers.

The deal with Astex marks the second oncology deal it hasannounced this year. In January, the company entered into a target screeningand validation deal with Galapagos' service division BioFocus DPI. 

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