Zymeworks pens $50M upfront, $1B-plus biobucks Janssen bispecific pact

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The Vancouver-based biotech has signed a series of deals with big biopharmas over the past two years.

Zymeworks must be spending a fortune on pens as it inks yet another deal, this time with Johnson & Johnson’s biotech unit.

Under the deal, Janssen gets its hands on worldwide, royalty-bearing license to research, develop, and sell up to six bispecific antibodies directed to Janssen therapeutic targets using Zymeworks’ Azymetric and Efect platforms.

For its side, Zymeworks gets a tidy fee of $50 million upfront, and if all goes well can look forward to $282 million in development milestones. The big prize, however, is the potential $1.12 billion in sales payments, although this would likely require all meds under the deal to be approved in the future, a highly unlikely scenario.

Janssen can also add two more bispecific programs, which could lead to more cash for Zymeworks should it tick this option. Further details on targets and timelines were not revealed in its brief release

RELATED: GSK doubles down on Zymeworks’ platform technologies with $908M deal

“We are very pleased to be partnering with Janssen and their world-class scientists,” said Ali Tehrani, Ph.D., president and CEO of Zymeworks. “This marks our sixth major pharmaceutical partnership and the first since our wholly-owned bispecific product candidate ZW25, which is enabled with the Azymetric platform, entered clinical trials.”

Tehrani said the cash boost would mainly be injected into trials for ZW25, its leading internal med currently in phase 1 targeting HER2-expressing cancers.

The Azymetric bispecific drug platform, which most of its biopharma deals have centered upon, works by doubling up on a drug’s potential target, offering a complementary approach to its Efect platform, a library of antibody Fc modifications that can be used to orchestrate an immune response: either turning it up or tamping it down.

The Vancouver-based biotech, which focuses primarily on bispecific antibodies, has signed a spate of deals over the past few years, including a potential $908 million deal with GlaxoSmithKline last year that sees the U.K. Big Pharma gain access to its Azymetric bispecific drug platform. Similar deals were set up with Celgene last year and with Lilly in 2014, and Zymeworks has a long-standing pact with Merck.

Last summer, Zymeworks penned an academic I-O deal that focuses on cell engineering in cancer, and last fall said it would pay an undisclosed tech licensing fee to get hold of Targeting Solutions’ HuTARG drug discovery platform.