J&J inks an $835M RNA deal to develop autoimmune drugs with Isis

You can now count Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) among the roster of big companies to ally itself with Isis Pharmaceuticals' ($ISIS) R&D group. J&J has stepped up with an $835 million pact to develop new drugs for autoimmune diseases of the gastrointestinal tract with the RNA specialists at Isis.

Just a few months after AstraZeneca ($AZN) expanded its development work with Isis, J&J is paying $35 million upfront and offering up to $800 million in milestones for the deal. Isis also stands to earn royalties from any marketed drugs that comes from its antisense technology platform.

The deal covers three programs and marks an extension of the Carlsbad, CA-based company's active partnering operation, which has attracted a Who's Who in the biopharma business. In addition to AstraZeneca, Isis has lured in Biogen Idec ($BIIB), Roche ($RHHBY) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) with its antisense tech. Isis' partner Genzyme, a subsidiary of Sanofi ($SNY), is commercializing Kynamro, which got off to a slow start in 2014. The biotech also has a full pipeline of 34 new drugs in development.

Shares of Isis jumped about 5% this morning. The company is occasionally tapped as a likely takeover target, though nothing has come of the rumors yet.

RNA has had its ups and downs over the years as Big Pharma either jumped in, bowed out or reentered the field. Today's move by J&J, though, marks another big bet in its favor.

Isis COO Lynne Parshall

"We are the leader in RNA-targeted therapeutics and our innovation and the successes of our pipeline drugs enable us to form collaborations, like this one, with leaders in specific therapeutic areas," noted Isis COO B. Lynne Parshall in a statement. "This partnering strategy ensures that we have access to resources that support and enhance our drug discovery efforts and also provides us with collaborators, like Janssen, who are uniquely capable of conducting development, marketing and commercial efforts for these drugs."

- here's the release