J&J signs up to assess Nextera's tech platform in rheumatoid arthritis

Nextera has landed a research collaboration that could put it on the map. The deal gives Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) a chance to take a closer look at Nextera's immunological technology platform with a view to bagging an exclusive global license for its use in rheumatoid arthritis research.

Nextera CEO Thomas Andersen

Oslo, Norway-based Nextera has spent the past 6 years working on the platform, which is designed to give researchers a way to identify and target receptors at the start of the immunological cascade. J&J unit Janssen Biotech is now bankrolling a collaboration, which was facilitated by the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centre in London, to assess whether the approach has the potential to yield new targets and molecules for its rheumatoid arthritis research program. If J&J likes what it sees, it has an option to pick up the exclusive right to use the technology in the indication.

Nextera has built its nascent business around the University of Oslo-discovered technology, which it thinks could lead to drugs that combine better efficacy with fewer side effects. So far, there has been little external validation of these claims. The Research Council of Norway (RCN) has seen enough to justify investing in a Crohn's disease discovery program, but the interest of J&J is a step up for Nextera. "This research agreement represents Nextera´s first collaboration with a global biopharmaceutical company," CEO Thomas Andersen said in a statement.

The core idea of Nextera's approach is to combine phage display technology--an established drug discovery tool that matches proteins to encoding genes--with the major histocompatibility complex class II surface molecules that present peptide fragments to T cells. Nextera thinks the resulting technology, dubbed Phagemers, will support the generation of large libraries of antigenic peptide candidates against disorders associated with genes in the human leukocyte antigen class II region. Autoimmune disorders, cancer and infections are all in Nextera's sights. 

As it stands, the plan is to take programs against diseases in these therapeutic areas as far as the end of lead optimization, after which Nextera will hand over responsibility to a partner.

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