Ionis outlicenses antisense GI drug to Janssen as the pharma posts Q2

Ionis Pharmaceuticals ($IONS) has sold the rights to its early-stage GI autoimmune disease candidate IONIS-JBI1-2.5Rx to Janssen ($JNJ) as the company announces strong growth for Q2 and an uptick in R&D spend.

The California biotech (once called ISIS Pharmaceuticals, before the name was changed last year) will hand over the orally delivered antisense drug to the U.S. Big Pharma for $10 million.

IONIS-JBI1-2.5Rx is designed to target an as-yet-undisclosed target in the GI tract and is set to be tested for the treatment of a GI autoimmune disease. 

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Under the terms of the deal, Janssen grabs hold of all global development, regulatory and commercialization responsibilities for IONIS-JBI1-2.5Rx--but only after Ionis completes IND-enabling studies.

This forms part of a collab between the biotech and Big Pharma first set up around 18 months ago, specifically designed for the two to discover and develop antisense drugs for disorders of the GI tract.

These types of meds bind to the genetic sequence of a faulty gene, and this deal is the first candidate to be licensed out to Janssen.

Under the broader collab, Ionis is able to cash in as much as $800 million in development, regulatory and sales milestones and license fees, as well as extra bonuses from royalties.

B. Lynne Parshall, chief operating officer at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, said: “IONIS-JBI1-2.5Rx is the first antisense drug to enter development as part of Ionis’ collaboration with Janssen to discover and develop orally administered, locally acting RNA-targeted therapeutics for autoimmune diseases in the gastrointestinal tract. We are very pleased to have rapidly advanced this first drug candidate into development within a year and a half of initiating our collaboration with Janssen. This new drug further expands our technology's reach into a new therapeutic setting and a new route of delivery."

The biotech also has R&D deals with Germany’s Bayer for IONIS-FXI in the prevention of thrombosis as well as AstraZeneca ($AZN) to develop antisense therapies for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases with the main focus on renal diseases, and other deals with Sanofi ($SNY) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK).

In fact, its deal with Sanofi saw the two companies gain U.S. approval 3 years ago for the lipid-lowering medicine Kynamro (mipomersen sodium).

This too is an antisense drug that works by binding to messenger RNA to shut down faulty genes related to the production of cholesterol.

But some of these deals have started to unravel. Ionis was hit this year after a clinical hold was put on a GSK-partnered trial for their late-stage work on an experimental drug for a rare cardiac condition. Announced back in May, Ionis’ shares dropped by as much as 40% on the news.

And just a few weeks before this, AstraZeneca punted AZD5312--an Ionis drug also dubbed IONIS-is AR-2.5Rx, which had been in early-stage studies for prostate cancer. This latest update from Janssen will be something of a relief for the company after these setbacks.

Janssen’s parent company Johnson & Johnson also announced its Q2 results today, with its drug sales hitting $8.65 billion for the quarter--an increase of 8.9% versus the prior year. The company’s R&D receipts were $2.26 billion for the past three months (worth 12.2% of sales), up 6.3% on its Q2 last year.

The company reiterated its use of partnerships--such as with Ionis--as a key driver for its sales and R&D productivity, calling its sales-to-research spend ratio one of the highest in the industry.

- check out the Ionis deal
- read J&J’s Q2 results

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