ASH18: J&J shells out $500M to sew up Argenyx's blood cancer hopeful cusatuzumab

Janssen's Beerse campus
The deal with Janssen builds on Argenx's recent IPO and its deal with AbbVie. (Janssen)

As the biggest and brightest in the blood cancer world came together for the ASH conference this weekend, European biotech Argenx was busy making a big biobucks deal.

It has teamed up with Cilag, a subsidiary of Janssen, to work on the company’s cusatuzumab. The team is testing the candidate, an anti-CD70 SIMPLE antibody, across a range of blood cancers and disorders, including AML, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and other hematological malignancies.

The deal is worth a respectable $300 million upfront, with a $200 million equity investment from Janssen funneled into the Belgium-Dutch biotech; but this could swell to $1.6 billion in biobucks, with the standard caveat that this would require all parts of the deal going perfectly.

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Under the pact, Argenx can hold on to the right to co-promote cusatuzumab in the U.S., as well as “share economics 50-50 on a royalty basis,” with Janssen responsible for sales worldwide.

The drug is already in a phase 1/2 combo test with Celgene blood cancer drug Vidaza for newly diagnosed, elderly patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and high-risk MDS who are unfit for chemotherapy. 

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“AML continues to be an aggressive and deadly cancer of the blood and bone marrow with very high relapse rates. Cusatuzumab offers a novel mode of action targeting leukemic stem cells, which are a known driver of the relapse mechanism, and has shown a compelling response rate and tolerability profile to date,” said Tim Van Hauwermeiren, CEO of Argenx.

“Janssen is an ideal strategic partner for us to develop this differentiated investigational therapy given its extensive clinical, regulatory and commercial expertise in oncology, and we believe that through this collaboration we are best positioned to reach the broadest number of patients as quickly as possible.

“The collaboration also strengthens our financial position, enabling our growth into a fully integrated organization as we continue to exploit our deep pipeline of wholly owned product candidates, including our lead product candidate efgartigimod which we are evaluating in four severe autoimmune indications,” he added.

The little biotech has been on a roll over the last few years, completing an impressive $115 million IPO on the Nasdaq, followed by a $231 million additional offering as 2017 drew to a close.

It’s also not stranger to biopharma pacts; back in 2016, it penned a major $685 million preclinical immuno-oncology deal with AbbVie, with other deals including tie-ups with Bird Rock Bio and Leo Pharma.