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J&J completes Aragon deal as Seragon is born

Acquisition of cancer drug specialist secures promising new prostate cancer therapy

Johnson & Johnson headquarters

Johnson & Johnson has completed its $1bn acquisition of US cancer drug specialist Aragon Pharmaceuticals.

The deal secures a promising new prostate cancer therapy for the pharma major in the form of Aragon's ARN-509, a second generation androgen receptor signalling inhibitor which has reached phase II testing in castration-resistant patients. 

J&J said in June it would pay $650m in upfront cash for Aragon and has also earmarked $350m for milestone payments as it brings ARN-509 and other compounds in Aragon's androgen receptor antagonist programme through development.

Peter Lebowitz, head of oncology at J&J, said the acquisition "strengthens our prostate cancer pipeline with a second-generation, potentially best-in-class compound".

J&J already has a fast-growing prostate cancer therapy with Zytiga (abiraterone acetate), which pulled in sales of $739m in the first six months of this year and could top $2bn at peak.

Zytiga looks set to continue its strong upwards momentum following recent approval in the US for treating metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer in patients who have previously been treated with Sanofi's Taxotere (docetaxel), an indication which is also under review in Europe.

"If approved, we are hopeful ARN-509 will allow us to meet the needs of an even broader range of prostate cancer patients," said Lebowitz.

The two drugs work in slightly different ways, raising the possibility of using them in combination. Zytiga blocks the enzyme CYP17, which produces androgens, while ARN-509 works as an androgen receptor antagonist that inhibits nuclear translocation and DNA binding of the receptor.

J&J now has a franchise in prostate cancer to help it compete with other recent market entrants such as Sanofi's cytotoxic drug Jevtana (cabazitaxel), introduced in 2010, and Xtandi (enzalutamide) from Astellas and Medivation which debuted in the US in 2012.

Seragon spun out

The closure of the deal also sees the creation of a new pharma company - Seragon Pharmaceuticals - that will take over development of other Aragon development programmes, including metastatic breast cancer treatment ARN-810 which is in phase I trials.

Seragon is focused on developing new treatments for oestrogen-driven cancers based on its selective estrogen receptor degrader (SERD) platform that is designed to circumvent the problem of resistance to current anti-hormonal therapies.

The new company is backed by current Aragon investors and led by Aragon's former chief executive Richard Heyman.

21st August 2013

From: Research, Sales

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