J&J's global deals team pursues a cure for hep B in latest partnering frenzy

J&J's Lawrence Blatt

In the lead-up to the big JP Morgan conference next week, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is taking the wraps off a cargo manifest of new collaborations, highlighting its global quest for a long list of new technologies ranging from experimental drugs and devices to consumer health items. And now that its worldwide dealmaking network is complete, it's also using the latest spate of partnerships to highlight its willingness to go anywhere necessary to find all the pieces it needs to create a therapeutic cocktail that can provide a functional cure for hepatitis B.

A total of 21 deals are included in the latest roundup, with a new investment in a Series A round for Aelix Therapeutics, a Spanish biotech spun out of a big Barcelona HIV center now pursuing development of a therapeutic HIV vaccine. And there's a separate collaboration now in place with the big ViiV joint venture--dominated by GlaxoSmithKline with partners at Pfizer ($PFE) and Shionogi--to develop a long-acting injectable that could replace the regimen of pills now required to keep the virus in check with a series of 6 annual jabs.

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) issued a companion statement this morning to say that their Phase III study for a long-acting combination of cabotegravir (CAB LA) and rilpivirine (RPV LA) will start in the middle of this year.

On the device side of the dealmaking roster, you'll find new technology for resecting tumors, new surgical devices and tech aimed at treating atrial fibrillation. In consumer health, J&J's deal team has snared a pact with the University of Heidelberg on new dental care techniques, new skin care tech and a focus on growing hair.

But J&J was particularly eager to illustrate its global quest with a new pact to align its infectious disease group with China's Chia Tai Tianqing Pharmaceutical Group, a subsidiary of Sino Biopharma which is typically referred to as CTTQ. That company is providing insights on immune-modulating agents in search of a cocktail that can cure hepatitis B. 

"What we know from HIV and HCV, with chronic viruses, you need a combination therapy," says infectious disease chief Lawrence Blatt, who joined J&J after the pharma giant bought out his hep C biotech Alios for $1.75 billion. "We're trying to explore direct antivirals, block the life cycle of the virus as well as activating the immune system, so it's a dual approach, immunological and antiviral. We want to marry those two into a functional cure."

The deal with CTTQ follows J&J's acquisition of Doylestown, PA-based Novira last November, which netted a Phase II-ready program aimed at disrupting viral replication by attacking the hep B capsid protein.

"We are looking for the best science," adds Blatt, "no matter where it is."

Now that J&J's four main deal centers have been staffed up in Shanghai, London, Boston and San Francisco, says Boston deals chief Robert Urban, the full network of global operatives--which includes satellite offices and business development execs--has tentacles that can reach into any R&D pocket anywhere in the world to find the best technologies available to fit J&J's research strategy.

- here's the release