Respiration collaboration

Centocor Ortho Biotech acquires RespiVert to bolster pulmonary focus, boosting pulmonary portfolio and capabilities

Kimberely Sirk
HORSHAM, Pa.—On June 1, CentocorOrtho Biotech Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson &Johnson Pharmaceutical Services, announced its acquisition ofRespiVert Ltd., a privately held drug discovery company focused ondeveloping small-molecule, inhaled therapies for the treatment ofpulmonary diseases.

By purchasing the company, Centocoralso becomes the owner of a portfolio of pathbreaking, early-stageinhaled treatments for a list of serious lung diseases, as well as acadre of scientific expertise.

Scientists at RespiVert, which willretain its own distinct identity after completion of the deal, willdrive the collaboration on the new treatment development. RespiVertwill continue to maintain its research and discovery presence inLondon from the Imperial BioIncubator, which is based at the campusof Imperial College London. RespiVert employees will continue to leadongoing research and drug discovery efforts. Financial terms of thedeal were not disclosed.

"The acquisition of RespiVertstrengthens our pulmonary capabilities and fulfills a key strategy tobuild a pulmonary franchise," says Brian Kenney, senior director ofGlobal Immunology, Pharmaceutical Communication and Public Affairsfor J&J, speaking on behalf of both companies. "We gain accessto a portfolio of first-in-class, inhaled treatments andnarrow-spectrum kinase inhibitors that are being pursued for thetreatment of moderate to severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonarydisease (COPD) and potentially, cystic fibrosis."

Dr. Garth Rapeport, CEO of RespiVert,said in a prepared statement that he believes the company he foundedoffers a wealth of possibilities to its new owner.

"We believe that our focuseddiscovery efforts in pulmonary disease offer a unique opportunity tobring completely new treatment options to patients who suffer fromsevere, chronic respiratory diseases," stated Rapeport, who willremain with RespiVert after the acquisition is finalized.

Kenney says he sees the long-termpotential in harnessing the people and products of RespiVert.

"Importantly, we also gain access torenowned respiratory experts from RespiVert who will play an integralrole in advancing the narrow spectrum kinase inhibitor compounds andin enhancing our infrastructure to build core expertise in pulmonaryscience," Kenney says. "RespiVert employees will remain inLondon, and the company will continue to operate as anentrepreneurial venture within our Immunology Therapeutic Area. A keypriority in continuing to build and strengthen a new pulmonaryfranchise is to access the best science globally and identifystrategic collaborations to bring innovative treatments to patientsin need, and we believe the acquisition of RespiVert is certainlyrepresentative of this strategic focus."

Centocor's R&D arm is likewiselooking forward to welcoming an established team of small-moleculeexperts to its fold.

"The RespiVert compounds offer thepotential for a new class of medicines for patients with severe lungdisease who are insensitive to inhaled corticosteroids," adds Dr.Susan Dillon, Global Therapeutic Area Head of Immunology at CentocorResearch and Development. "The addition of RespiVert's expertscientific team and discovery platforms for inhaled medicinesstrengthens our capabilities and further builds our pipeline of noveloral and biologic therapies for serious pulmonary diseases."

RespiVert's lead compounds, RV-568and RV-1088, which are narrow-spectrum kinase inhibitors that alsopossess the traits of anti-inflammatory treatments, are progressinginto clinical development as potential first-in-class treatments formoderate to severe asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis. Centocor hasexpertise in developing therapies for other difficult-to-treatconditions in the pulmonary space.

"Our internal discovery and researchefforts have led to a pipeline of promising biologic and oraltherapies for respiratory diseases that includes multiple assets inearly development," adds Kenney. "For example, Simponi andStelara are in Phase II study for sarcoidosis, and CNTO 888 is inPhase II study for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. We have severalother large- and small-molecule agents in early development, aswell."

Kenney concludes by saying that thetiming was right for bringing in a company to accelerate Johnson &Johnson's steady gains in treatment of these well-known, but stillintractable, pulmonary concerns.

"We remain focused on continuing tobuild and strengthen a pulmonary franchise and the acquisition ofRespiVert brings us closer to this goal with the addition of novelsmall-molecule, inhaled compounds to complement our existing internalpipeline of promising oral and biologic therapies in this therapeuticarea," Kenney says. "We believe that through our portfolio wehave the potential to offer innovative therapies in diseases withimmunologic components like severe asthma and COPD."

Centocor seeks to improve patient carein immunology, nephrology and oncology. The company was formed whenCentocor Inc. and Ortho Biotech Inc. were consolidated in late 2008.The company works in both the large-molecule and small-moleculeresearch space. Beyond drug discovery and development, Centocorcreates and drives education and public policy initiatives to ensurepatients and their families, caregivers, advocates and healthcareprofessionals have access to the latest treatment information,support services and quality care.

RespiVert is a small-molecule drugdiscovery company working toward the identification of new treatmentsfor patients with COPD, cystic fibrosis and severe asthma. The moresevere forms of these diseases respond poorly to existing therapiessuch as inhaled corticosteroids. RespiVert has been financed byAdvent Venture Partners, Fidelity Biosciences, Imperial Innovationsand SV Life Sciences.


Kimberely Sirk

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