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J&J acquires oncology candidate in $1bn Aragon buy

ARN-509 is in phase II development for castration resistant prostate cancer

Johnson & Johnson headquarters

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) yesterday gained the rights to a promising prostate cancer candidate by acquiring oncology specialists Aragon Pharmaceuticals.

J&J has high hopes for Aragon's lead candidate ARN-509, which is in phase II development for castration resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), and agreed a deal that could see it pay up to $1bn for the California-based firm, based on an upfront cash payment of $650m and a further $350m dependent on milestones.

Dr Peter Lebowitz, global therapeutic area head, oncology for J&J's pharma arm Janssen, explained that ARN-509 complemented the company's existing prostate cancer therapy Zytiga (abiraterone acetate), which made nearly $1bn during 2012 after approvals for the advanced metastatic form of the disease.

Like Zytiga, ARN-509 is developed to work by affecting the body's level of androgen, a steroid hormone that supports the growth of prostate cancer.

Whereas Zytiga blocks the enzyme CYP17, which produces androgen, ARN-509 works as an androgen receptor antagonist that inhibits nuclear translocation and DNA binding of the receptor.

Aragon has previously said ARN-509 showed promising preliminary anti-tumour activity in phase I trials, while the treatment is also in phase II trials investigating its use in people with advanced CRPC.

The price J&J is willing to pay for Aragon reflects the still relatively large unmet medical need in metastatic prostate cancer, which prior to 2004 had no treatment proven to improve survival.

Despite the launch of Zytiga, and rival drug Xtandi (enzalutamide) from Astellas and Medivation, in recent years prognosis remains low and recurrence is common.

J&J has already been contemplating using ARN-509 alongside Zytiga as part of a combination therapy, with a phase Ib trial investigating this combination currently in the recruitment stage.

In a twist to the acquisition agreement, J&J will not acquire Aragon in its complete form. All of Aragon's assets that aren't part of its androgen receptor antagonist programme are to be spun out into a new company, which J&J will not have a stake in.

18th June 2013

From: Research

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