UPDATED: Latecomer J&J inks a $700M deal on immuno-oncology drug

J&J may not be in the front ranks of the immuno-oncology giants, but it is carving out a place for itself in the hottest field in biopharma R&D. J&J's ($JNJ) research unit Janssen has inked back-to-back I/O deals with two small biotechs in the U.S. and Europe.

This morning Sweden's Alligator Biosciences handed over a global license to the CD40-targeting ADC-1013, an antibody designed to spur a T cell attack on cancer. J&J's London-based innovations team struck the deal, which gives J&J control of development after the Phase I wraps up.

As is often the case, J&J is keeping the upfront under wraps, but Alligator says that it stands to win a package of milestones and fees worth up to $700 million and a royalty stream if J&J goes on to a commercial launch. The pharma giant is also making an unspecified purchase of Alligator's shares.

Peter Lebowitz, global oncology head for Janssen R&D

J&J is late to immuno-oncology, well behind industry leaders like Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Merck ($MRK), Roche ($RHHBY) and AstraZeneca ($AZN). In the wake of quick approvals for Opdivo and Keytruda, though, a growing group of biopharma companies have been busily creating new partnerships, starting new programs and inking collaborations on an hourly schedule. And many are determined to come up with new therapies that can beat the late-stage drugs now in the clinic.

"ADC-1013 is a great addition to our growing immuno-oncology portfolio, which includes a broad range of approaches in both solid tumors and hematologic malignancies," said Peter Lebowitz, the global oncology head for Janssen Research & Development.

The deal with Alligator closely followed a separate I/O pact with San Diego-based Poseida Therapeutics, a spinoff from Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals which is hopping on Janssen's Centyrin platform to discover and develop new CARs (T cells and natural killer cells adapted with chimeric antigen receptors and targeted at cancer cells.

"The Centyrin technology can be used to develop binding molecules to numerous cancer antigens and paves the way towards cutting-edge CAR-based immuno-oncology therapeutics, which may eventually treat many different cancers that currently have unsatisfactory treatment options," said Eric Ostertag, CEO of Poseida.

- here's the Alligator release
- here's the Poseida release