J&J's shrinking infectious disease and vaccine plans leave partners in limbo

Johnson & Johnson may be steadfast in its decision to divest from the development of vaccines and infectious disease meds but the Big Pharma's partners in this therapeutic area have been left in limbo. 

Cidara Therapeutics said late Thursday that while it's aware of J&J's reprioritization, it has yet to hear whether or not a two-year-old partnership has been axed. The two companies had collaborated on CD388, a prophylactic for influenza A and B. In a post-market release, the biotech said that “at this time” Janssen has made no indication that it plans to terminate the program.

Janssen no longer lists the antiviral, also known as JNJ-0953, on its pipeline, however.

Nonetheless, Cidara says it will continue to work with the Big Pharma on three ongoing clinical trials testing CD388. Two of those trials, each in phase 1, wrapped up recruitment in May and are each listed as active on the clinical trial record. A phase 2a trial is also still listed as active after completing recruitment in late March.

Once the biotech submits the phase 2a data to Janssen, the larger company will have 90 days to decide whether or not to advance the program forward. If Janssen does in fact decide to proceed, it will have sole responsibility for either future development or business development efforts to secure a third party.

In yesterday's release, Cidara CEO Jeffrey Stein said his team remains confident in the potential of CD388, “whether we or another party further advances this promising asset.” 

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals has found itself in a similar position ever since Janssen relayed to the biotech earlier this year that a $3.7 billion collaboration signed in 2018 was no more. That deal centered on hepatitis B med JNJ-3989, a disease area that’s been completely wiped out amid J&J’s shakeup.

Arrowhead is still waiting to find out whether J&J, which has the rights to the asset, will out-license to another company or hand it back to the biotech. A separate nonalcoholic steatohepatitis candidate that arose from the deal has already been given back.

A spokesperson for Arrowhead told Fierce Biotech Thursday that the company has no further update to provide.

The positions both Cidara and Arrowhead find themselves in stem from Janssen's move away from infectious disease and vaccine development. An updated clinical pipeline posted by Janssen yesterday showed that the company halved the number of assets in this therapeutic area compared to the first quarter of the year. Team members were first notified about plans to shrink the unit back in late January.