Ionis licenses another antisense GI drug to Janssen

Ionis Pharmaceuticals has signed the rights to another antisense drug over to Janssen for a fee of $5 million.

The candidate, IONIS-JBI2-2.5Rx, is orally delivered and acts on an undisclosed target to treat a gastrointestinal (GI) autoimmune disease. Antisense drugs silence genes responsible for genetic disorders by binding to the messenger RNA produced by that gene.

Under the deal, Janssen will take over the global development, regulatory and commercialization rights for IONIS-JBI2-2.5Rx, Ionis said in a statement.

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"We are pleased that IONIS-JBI2-2.5Rx is advancing into development because we believe this drug has the potential to treat autoimmune disorders in the GI tract that are underserved with current therapies," said Frank Bennett, senior vice president of research at Ionis. "Our collaboration with Janssen has been very productive. This is the second drug Janssen has licensed in little over a year, which is the direct result of the speed and efficiency of our antisense technology."

In July 2016, the California biotech handed over the rights to a different candidate, dubbed IONIS-JBI1-2.5Rx, for $10 million.

These deals are part of a larger collaboration under which Ionis could potentially reel in $800 million in developmental, regulatory and sales milestones, in addition to licensing fees and royalties.

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As well as its antisense drugs for GI autoimmune disease, Ionis has programs in diabetes, multiple sclerosis, prostate cancer and a range of rare diseases. It counts the likes of AstraZeneca, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline among its partners.

The biotech recently touted phase 3 data for patients with hereditary TTR amyloidosis, showing its antisense drug inotersen elicited a 20-point improvement in a score for neuropathy impairment.

But not all has been smooth sailing for Ionis—in August, the company implored its shareholders to reject a mini-tender offer from Canada’s TRC Capital, saying it does not “provide investors with the same level of protections” as would a larger tender offer. And in May, an investigator-sponsored trial of Ionis’ IONIS-TTRrx patients with familial amyloid cardiomyopathy was hit with an FDA warning letter, which sent the biotech’s share price down 6%.