Yumanity's end: J&J pays $26M for neuroscience assets as reverse merger erases biotech

Yumanity Therapeutics has struck two agreements to erase itself from existence. Johnson & Johnson has stepped in to take on Yumanity’s lead program and unpartnered discovery-stage candidates, while Kineta has laid claim to its Nasdaq listing and Merck collaboration through a reverse merger.

Boston-based Yumanity sounded the alarm earlier this year, outlining plans to lay off 60% of its staff and seek a buyer for its assets. The actions followed the imposition of a partial hold on multi-dose trials of the biotech’s lead drug, stearoyl-CoA desaturase (SCD) inhibitor YTX-7739, that exacerbated its mounting cash crisis.

Yumanity’s search for an exit has led to two deals, including J&J's Janssen Pharmaceutical unit picking up the biotech’s unpartnered pipeline. In return for $26 million in cash, the Big Pharma will secure the rights to YTX-7739 and unpartnered discovery-stage neuroscience product candidates and targets.

YTX-7739 spearheaded Yumanity’s advance in its early years, helping it raise more than $100 million and then join Nasdaq through a reverse merger with Proteostasis in 2020. The interest in the molecule reflects evidence of the effects of SCD inhibition, which include the reversal of the toxicity of misfolded alpha-synuclein in mice. 

Yumanity moved YTX-7739 into a clinical trial in Parkinson's disease patients on the strength of the mice data, but its data drop received a frosty reception late last year. Investors drove down the share price of the biotech after seeing top-line data from a phase 1b clinical trial of 20 patients. The FDA compounded the situation by slapping a partial hold on YTX-7739 in January. 

With J&J picking off Yumanity’s in-house R&D programs, private immuno-oncology biotech Kineta has swept up the rest of the business. Shareholders in Kineta will own 85% of the combined biotech, which will retain the Kineta name and focus on immuno-oncology while continuing to support Yumanity’s research collaboration with Merck & Co.

Merck formed the collaboration in 2020 to work with Yumanity on treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Late last year, Merck accepted the first data package from the collaboration, triggering a $5 million payment to Yumanity in a deal that could ultimately earn it $530 million.