J&J bags option on AdoRx lung cancer drugs

Johnson & Johnson is teaming up with AdoRx Therapeutics to develop lung cancer drugs. The deal gives J&J an exclusive option to research, develop and commercialize AdoRx antagonists.

AdoRx, a Scottish biotech, began operations in 2017 with a focus on discovering adenosine receptor antagonists that engage their targets in the adenosine-rich tumor microenvironment. That focus led AdoRx to embark on programs to discover drugs that block adenosine A2A or both A2A and A2B.

Epidarex Capital and CRT Pioneer Fund pumped an initial $10 million into AdoRx last summer but aside from that the startup has kept a low profile. Even so, AdoRx managed to capture the attention of J&J.

The Big Pharma has secured an exclusive option on antagonists in development at AdoRx and the chance to collaborate with the startup on drug discovery and preclinical testing. Neither party has disclosed financial details of the deal. 

The deal forms part of J&J’s lung cancer initiative, which seeks to leverage its diversified business model to tackle the disease in different ways. Many drug development programs focus on patients with late-stage lung cancer. By involving its consumer, diagnostic and drug units, J&J hopes to find ways to prevent the disease or at least identify and treat it far earlier than happens today. 

So far, J&J’s publicly disclosed efforts have leaned toward diagnostics, most notably through the deals it has entered into with Boston University Medical Center and Veracyte over the past nine months. 

The AdoRx deal moves the lung cancer initiative into the treatment of the disease. Researchers have known for years that A2A receptors, targets best known in neurology contexts, are found on immune cells. That knowledge became more pertinent to cancer R&D teams as the immuno-oncology era got underway and interest in immune checkpoints skyrocketed. 

Today, companies including AstraZeneca and Novartis have moved A2A antagonists into the clinic in the belief they can spur the proliferation and activation of T lymphocytes and otherwise encourage antitumor immune attacks.