J&J hooks Proteologix for $850M cash, reeling in a roster of early bispecifics

Johnson & Johnson is shelling out $850 million to buy Proteologix, getting hold of a young roster of bispecific immunology meds including a phase 1-ready asset that targets TSLP. 

The new acquisition announced Thursday adds depth to J&J’s immunology roster, with a lead asset “ready to enter phase 1 development,” according to the pharma giant. That med, PX128, is a bispecific antibody targeting both IL-13 and the IL-2-like cytokine TSLP aimed at patients with atopic dermatitis (AD) and severe asthma.

Pharma and investors alike have pounced on promising TSLP-targeting biotechs. On Wednesday, Uniquity Bio unveiled with $300 million from Blackstone's life science arm to advance its anti-TSLP candidate into phase 2 studies. And Aiolos Bio unveiled with over $200 million in October only to be bought by GSK for up to $1.4 billion a few months later. Targeting IL-13 has also been a hotbed of interest, with Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent among the most well-known treatments.

J&J’s deal also includes PX130, a bispecific antibody targeting IL-13 and IL-22 in preclinical development for moderate to severe AD. The company argues that since asthma and AD are both heterogeneous diseases, diversifying blocking capabilities could maximize efficacy and increase remission rates. 

“We see an opportunity for best-in-disease efficacy for both PX128 and PX130 as each bispecific antibody targets two different combinations of disease-driving pathways that are mediating the skin inflammation in heterogeneous subpopulations of AD patients,” David Lee, global immunology therapeutic head for J&J, said in a release. The New Jersey pharma will also get “other bispecific antibody programs” that could be applied to additional diseases.

J&J will hope for more success after a similarly-sized $750 million bolt-on deal with XBiotech in 2019 fizzled out. The acquired antibody, bermekimab, is no longer in the pipeline after J&J previously disclosed it had ended its development as a treatment for eczema, spurring a $610 million impairment charge. 

It’s J&J’s second pharma acquisition of the year after the company bought ADC biotech Ambrx for $2 billion. But execs had been teasing that there was continued M&A interest elsewhere, with CEO Joaquin Duato saying in late January that he felt there were additional opportunities in neuroscience and immunology.  

“Our preference is clearly to be in areas in which we have internal capabilities and know-how,” Duato said at the time.