J&J keeps cash flowing on blockbuster Pharmacyclics deal for ibrutinib

J&J ($JNJ) stepped in with a blockbuster licensing deal for Pharmacyclics' ($PCYC) late-stage blood cancer drug ibrutinib late last year, and ever since it's been keeping up a rich flow of milestone payments promised in the $975 million deal.

Today J&J's Janssen stepped up with its third $50 million payday for the Btk inhibitor as the fifth patient with relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma was signed up for a combo study that matches ibrutinib with bendamustine and rituximab.

"This is our first Phase III study in which we use ibrutinib in a combination setting. Together with Janssen we are making good progress exploring ibrutinib's potential in a multitude of diseases and across different disease stages as a single agent and now in combination. Over time, we will continue to initiate further studies to complement a broad clinical development program for ibrutinib." said Bob Duggan, the CEO of Pharmacyclics. An update on the program is planned for ASH in December.

Just days after Pharmacyclics signed on with J&J, the biotech released stellar 10-month follow-up data on its Btk inhibitor from an early-stage program, showing that a total of 70% of the 61 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients in the trial demonstrated a significant response, compared to 48% at the 6-month mark. Progression-free survival hit 90% at 6 months. All of the patients had failed at least two standard therapies for leukemia. The response rate in the high-dose group hit 44% and lead author Dr. John Byrd of Ohio State called the data "phenomenal."

The steady flow of cash and data has driven Pharmacyclics' shares to some impressive heights. The stock was down a few cents this morning, but it's up 400% over the past year.

- here's the press release