J&J, flush with blood cancer assets, cuts one from the pipeline

Johnson & Johnson has not shied away from its blood cancer ambitions, with six phase 1 assets bubbling at the base of the company’s oncology pipeline. But not all the early contenders have made it this far.

The company has cut JNJ-6665—a dihydroorotate dehydrogenase inhibitor—according to an updated pipeline (PDF) revised for the company’s third-quarter report on Tuesday. A spokesperson for J&J told Fierce Biotech the asset had been axed "as part of a strategic portfolio decision." JNJ-6665 had been in the middle of a phase 1 trial for patients with acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.

The dose escalation study was testing JNJ-6665 as both a monotherapy and in combination with either Onureg or Venclexta, with the aim of recruiting 157 patients. The company began recruiting in November 2020 and wrapped up in August, with trial sites spanning the U.S., France, Spain, Korea and the U.K. Preclinical research of the drug found that when combined with azacitidine in animals, there was evidence of a “lack of antagonism in the anti-leukemic activity.”

The drug’s axing comes as other blood cancer assets were added to J&J's pipeline over the third quarter, including from a multi-project collaboration with Nouscom. One of those projects, VAC85135, is a cancer vaccine candidate indicated for certain blood cancers. In May, VAC85135 received a green light from the FDA to launch into clinical trials and recruitment is ongoing. J&J also added JNJ-8543 to the roster, another phase 1 blood cancer asset.

The early stage shifting comes as the company’s R&D spend continues to outpace 2021. In the third quarter of this year, the Big Pharma spent nearly $3.6 billion on research and development compared to $3.42 billion for the same period a year ago. Through the first nine months of the year, the R&D spend reflected as a percent of sales was 15.1% in 2022 compared to 14.5% in 2021.