J&J inks $6.5B Momenta buyout to bag autoimmune drug

Johnson & Johnson has struck a deal to buy Momenta Pharmaceuticals for $6.5 billion. The takeover will give J&J control of an anti-FcRn antibody that completed a phase 2 trial in myasthenia gravis earlier this year.

To get its hands on the anti-FcRn antibody, nipocalimab, J&J has agreed to pay $52.50 a share in cash. Momenta’s stock closed just above $30 yesterday, leading investors to drive its share price up around 70% to just shy of J&J’s offer when news of the takeover agreement broke. Once Momenta’s cash is factored in, the deal values the business at around $6.1 billion.

J&J’s willingness to pay that much reflects its belief that Momenta can give it multiple blockbuster launches. Nipocalimab is in clinical development in myasthenia gravis, warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia (wAIHA) and hemolytic disease of fetus and newborn. Momenta has another asset, hyper-sialylated human immunoglobulin G m234, in the clinic in immune thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP), but nipocalimab is the main event. J&J is yet to decide on plans for the other drugs. 

If nipocalimab is to justify the deal, J&J will need to differentiate the asset from other similar drugs. Argenx, which is partnered with J&J on cusatuzumab, posted phase 3 data on FcRn drug efgartigimod in myasthenia gravis earlier this year, setting it up to seek FDA approval by the end of 2020.

Momenta plans to start a phase 3 trial of nipocalimab in myasthenia gravis next year, putting it well behind Argenx. However, J&J sees nipocalimab as “competitively differentiated,” potentially due to reasons such as efficacy and convenience, and is betting that it can carve out a niche in a competitive field.

Argenx is one of several companies with FcRn assets in development. Alexion bought its way into the field by paying $400 million to buy Syntimmune, giving it control of an asset that was on the cusp of entering a phase 2 trial in wAIHA when COVID-19 hit. COVID-19 also disrupted clinical development of UCB’s challenger rozanolixizumab, but phase 3 trials of that FcRn drug are now enrolling patients with ITP and myasthenia gravis. Immunovant has a FcRn drug, IMVT-1401, in phase 2, and Harbour BioMed is also in the race.

The interest in FcRn reflects evidence of the role the target plays in the action of autoantibodies, a type of antibody that reacts with self-antigens. Through the reactions, autoantibodies are implicated in a range of autoimmune diseases. J&J sees the takeover furthering its efforts to treat maternal-fetal disorders, neuroinflammatory disorders, rheumatology, dermatology and autoimmune hematology.

J&J highlighted the scientific capabilities of the people and labs that put Momenta in a position to go after those opportunities as one of the drivers of the deal. After closing the takeover, J&J will keep Momenta’s site in Cambridge, Massachusetts, positioning it to benefit from its existing employees and capabilities and access to the talent pool in the area.