J&J inks Fate deal to move into allogeneic CAR therapies 

Johnson & Johnson is paying Fate Therapeutics $50 million upfront to collaborate on up to four CAR NK and CAR-T cell therapies. The deal, which features $3 billion in milestones, tasks Fate with using its induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) platform to develop drugs based on four targets picked out by J&J.

Fate’s work on iPSCs has gained new resonance in recent years as efforts to develop allogeneic cell therapies have revealed the need for renewable sources of cells. In iPSCs, Fate has access to a source of cells that could fit the bill, leading it to advance a pipeline of off-the-shelf therapies spearheaded by clinical-phase NK candidate FT500 and enter into a collaboration with Ono Pharmaceutical.

Now, Fate has added J&J to its list of collaborators. J&J is paying $50 million upfront and making a $50 million equity investment, at almost 50% above the market rate, to get Fate to apply its iPSC platform to up to four tumor-associated antigen targets.

J&J is choosing the targets and will bankroll Fate’s work to develop cell therapies against them. Fate will collaborate with J&J on CAR NK and CAR-T cell candidates against the targets up to the IND filing. At that point, J&J will have the option to pick up the exclusive rights to the prospects. 

As the assets advance, J&J will be on the hook for up to $1.8 billion in development and regulatory milestones, with up to $1.2 billion in commercial milestones to follow if the drugs come to market. Fate has the option to co-commercialize the drugs in the U.S. and will receive double-digit royalties on worldwide commercial sales.

In return for the outlay, J&J is adding another piece to its emerging cell therapy portfolio. J&J moved into the CAR-T space by picking up rights to Legend Biotech’s anti-BCMA candidate, known within the Big Pharma as JNJ-4528. Having achieved a 69% complete response rate in a phase 1b/2 multiple myeloma trial, the CAR-T is making its way toward a date with U.S. and European regulators. 

The Fate deal represents a smaller bet for J&J, at least for now, although the sums involved were still big enough to drive the share price of the biotech up more than 20% in after-hours trading. For Fate, the deal provides it with a source of upfront and ongoing income while allowing it to retain control of its existing assets. The nature of Fate’s platform means there is also scope to strike deals with other companies, combining their targets with its iPSCs to create new allogeneic cell therapies.