J&J takes another leap into microbiome R&D with $241M Vedanta pact

J&J ($JNJ) is beefing up its R&D efforts in the microbiome. Its subsidiary Janssen Biotech has inked a deal to collaborate with Boston-based Vedanta on a new bacterial treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. And it handed over an undisclosed upfront payment and promises of up to $241 million in milestones if their partnership can blaze a path to the market eventually.

Right now, the treatment in question, VE-202, still faces some considerable work in the preclinical stage before researchers can make their way into the clinic with the first human study. Starting with the idea that IBD and other diseases can be triggered by an unhealthy balance of bacteria in the gut, the treatment will be designed to restore harmony--and health.

"The hypothesis behind VE-202 is that IBD patients deficient in Clostridia bacteria in the gut lack the T-regulatory cell component necessary for controlling inflammation," says Dr. Scott Plevy, the IBD chief at Janssen. And if the work branches out into other disease targets, he adds, Vedanta stands to earn similar milestones from related R&D work.

J&J's Innovation group in Boston helped set up this deal with Vedanta, which was launched by PureTech. And it follows academic partnerships with the University of Michigan as well as UC San Francisco on the microbiome. J&J has also forged a collaboration with Second Genome for a microbiome project. Second Genome moved its first project into the clinic earlier this week.

Don't look for any overnight cures from the work, says Plevy, who wouldn't be surprised if the new collaboration takes a couple more years before human studies can get started. But looking far down the playing field, he can also envision a future in which projects like this can one day lead to preventive therapies for high-risk patients.

- here's the release