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Dutch biotech Argenx claims $1.8bn licensing deal with J&J

Deal centres around blood cancer candidate cusatuzumab

J&J

Argenx of the Netherlands has licensed a drug for blood cancers to Johnson & Johnson in a deal that gives it a hefty $300m upfront payment, plus a $200m equity investment by the big pharma company.

The deal centres on cusatuzumab (ARGX-110), a CD70-targeting antibody that is being developed for the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and other haematological cancers and is in phase 1/2 testing. It also covers next-generation anti-CD70 drugs.

All told, milestone payments of $1.3bn could swell J&J’s investment in the programme to $1.8bn, a handsome figure given the early stage of the programme and also that Argenx is also retaining co-promotion rights in the US. In that market the companies have agreed to share economics 50/50 on a royalty basis, while Argenx will get double-digit sales royalties elsewhere.

Cusatuzumab is currently in a clinical trial in newly-diagnosed elderly patients with AML and MDS patients who aren’t able to be treated with chemotherapy. It is being given in combination with Celgene’s Vidaza (azacitidine) and will look at escalating doses of Argenx’ drug, given intravenously, with a standard dose of Vidaza.

Argenx is due to report data at the American Society of Haematology (ASH) meeting in San Diego this week  in 12 AML patients, with the abstract showing a 92% overall response rate – including 82% complete responses – that analysts at Piper Jaffray have described as “unprecedented” in AML and “striking.”

Analyst Edward Tenhoff said in a research note that the phase 2 expansion portion of the study could potentially open up a route to regulatory approval in the US – which goes some way to explain the premium J&J is paying for the asset.

“AML continues to be an aggressive and deadly cancer of the blood and bone marrow with very high relapse rates,” said Argenx’ chief executive Tim Van Hauwermeiren.

“Cusatuzumab offers a novel mode of action targeting leukaemic stem cells, which are a known driver of the relapse mechanism, and has shown a compelling response rate and tolerability profile to date.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th December 2018

From: Sales

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