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Galapagos teams up with J&J in arthritis small molecule deal

Belgian biotech Galapagos teams up with Johnson & Johnson in a two-part arthritis research programme concentrating on small molecule drugs

Belgium-headquartered biotech Galapagos has teamed up with US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in an arthritis research programme.

According to DrugResearcher.com, the two-part deal is made up of an alliance and an internal R&D programme at Galapagos to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatments. The company says it could receive a total of EUR 1bn (USD 1.4bn) for approximately five or six first-in-class drugs.

J&J's existing RA monoclonal antibody Remicade (infliximab), racks up approximately USD 4bn in annual sales, but is an injection, which is never ideal for patients. Also, only 30 per cent respond to the therapy.

Galapagos says it will develop oral small-molecule drugs. In order to do this the company will use adenovirus vectors to deliver short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) into cells, which go on to produce small interfering RNA (siRNA), which can be used to suppress the activity of the genes that produce proteins.

The cellular assay will be used to investigate the role of proteins in RA, for example. Once a new protein target has been identified, Galapagos can then select novel protein targets for drug discovery and patent protect each one for a given disease.

Galapagos' CEO Onno van der Stolpe says that the company has already identified, validated and patent protected a number of RA targets, including unnamed kinases, proteases, GCPRs and ion-channels, which is why J&J has come on board.

Per the agreement, Galapagos will develop drugs against 12 of these targets. When the drug passes a phase II proof of concept trial, J&J then has the option to license it fully and for each one, with Galapagos potentially receiving EUR 73m (USD 103.9m) in milestones, as well as royalties.

Galapagos will also expand its own internal RA programme to develop small molecule drugs against seven targets, which includes the preclinical compound, GT418. Phase I testing of GT418 will begin in 2008.

If this or any other internal programme is licensed by J&J after proof of concept, Galapagos will receive EUR 60m (USD 85.4m). The company will also be eligible to receive up to EUR 776m (USD 1.1bn) in development, regulatory and sales milestones, if more than one drug is approved in several indications.

Galapagos has increased its FY07 financial guidance from between EUR 54m to EUR 58m to between EUR 60m to EUR 64m, as a result of the deal.

30th September 2008

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