Johnson & Johnson pens Alzheimer’s gene therapy pact

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J&J hopes to use AAV viral delivery to trigger the expression of therapeutic antibodies in the brain.

Johnson & Johnson has formed an Alzheimer’s gene therapy research pact with the University of Pennsylvania. The partnership brings together J&J’s anti-Alzheimer’s antibodies and the university’s adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) in a bid to open up a new frontier in the fight against the disease.

J&J hopes to use AAV viral delivery to trigger the expression of therapeutic antibodies in the brain. These antibodies, J&J’s contribution to the partnership, will target the key pathological features of Alzheimer’s in a bid to treat disease. 

If successful, the effort will open up a way to get biologics into the brain to treat Alzheimer’s and other diseases affecting the organ. Currently, the blood-brain barrier limits the use of antibodies to treat brain diseases.

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The workaround being pursued by J&J is underpinned by AAV research performed by Jim Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., and others at the university's gene therapy program. Wilson and his collaborators have been working for more than two decades to improve AAVs, leading to the current effort to create what they see as the third generation of AAV vectors. 

Wilson and his collaborators hope these vectors will improve delivery and potency, while bypassing humoral immunity, and open the door to AAV-enabled genome editing. J&J has exclusive global rights to products resulting from the collaboration.

The Big Pharma unveiled the hookup with the university in one of its periodic updates on its partnering activity. The latest drop also brought news that J&J is working with Dermala, a resident of the San Diego JLABS site, on microbiome-derived treatments for skin conditions and that it is collaborating with a GPCR expert to discover drugs against obesity and other metabolic diseases. 

The collaborations are part of a big network of alliances J&J has built up in recent years as it has tried to hit upon a more effective way of accessing innovation.