J&J picks up where Novo left off with an autoimmune licensing deal

Novo Nordisk ($NVO), gradually exiting the world of autoimmune R&D, has found a home for one of its former projects, handing a development program over to Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) for an undisclosed sum.

Under the deal, J&J's Janssen R&D unit is buying the global rights to Novo's work on a program targeting an unspecified group of autoimmune diseases. Novo's project targets NKG2D receptors, which modulate the body's immune cells. Other researchers have tapped the NKG2D path in hopes of crafting treatments for cancer, infection and diabetes, but Novo isn't disclosing any disease targets tied to its program.

The deal with J&J follows Novo's September announcement that it's getting out of autoimmune and anti-inflammatory R&D en masse. The Danish giant endured a series of setbacks in its autoimmune pipeline, including the Phase IIb failure of the rheumatoid arthritis treatment NN8226, and finally decided to pack it in and focus on its core competencies of diabetes and hemophilia, redirecting some of its resources toward building an obesity franchise. Novo remains the world's largest maker of insulin.

In March, Novo inked a deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) to unload a discovery-stage biologics program that targets the innate immune system, which is the body's first line of defense against infection. That project aims to treat autoimmune disease by modulating bodily response to pathogens, correcting dysregulated immunity to steer patients back to health.

- read the statement (PDF)

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