J&J bets up to $277M on a prospect from its R&D farm system

Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) plan to grow its pipeline with deal-scouting outposts around the globe is beginning to pay off, as the drugmaker's London lookout has brought in what could be a promising approach to rheumatoid arthritis.

Through its Janssen subsidiary, J&J has licensed some bone-protective compounds from U.K. biotech Modern Biosciences, handing over an undisclosed up-front payment and promising as much as £176 million ($277 million) in milestones.

Modern Biosciences says its oral candidates employ a novel mechanism of action to treat arthritis, at once reducing the inflammation at the heart of RA and protecting bones from the disease's damaging effects. Neither company is disclosing just how many compounds are covered in the deal, saying only that the most advanced of the treatments is slated to enter Phase I in 2015.

Modern Biosciences makes its money by in-licensing discovery projects, running proof-of-principle studies and then out-licensing them to drug developers. The London-headquartered outfit got its hands on the arthritis program through a 2007 deal with OsteoRX, a spinout of the University of Aberdeen, and the technology's promise drew a £2.4 million ($3.8 million) award from the publicly funded Innovate UK earlier this month.

Along the way, J&J's London Innovation Center got involved. Launched last year, the outpost is part of J&J's new global network designed to find the academics, entrepreneurs and innovators at work on what could be tomorrow's blockbusters. The plan is to fan out and look to seed and incubate promising ideas, whether by licensing assets or helping build new companies, and J&J has stood up similar operations in Boston, San Francisco and Shanghai.

And now that the RA deal is signed, the London Innovation Center is on tap to broker the collaboration between Janssen and Modern Biosciences, rolling forward with what both companies believe could be a novel approach to a common disease.

"We are delighted to be working with Janssen to progress our novel series of compounds," Modern Biosciences CEO Sam Williams said in a statement. "MBS' compounds have unique characteristics compared to existing treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, and we believe Janssen is an ideal partner with which to take the molecules forward. This agreement demonstrates MBS' business model, which is to take early-stage assets from academia and advance them to a point of value inflection when they can be licensed to industry, generating a return for our stakeholders."

- read the statement

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