J&J adds an $817M cancer drug pact with ambitious Aduro

A banner year for Berkeley, CA-based Aduro just got better. The biotech has inked its second licensing pact of the year with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), which kicked in a $30 million upfront and boosted its total milestone package to the $1 billion-plus category.

With the J&J Innovation Center in the Bay Area leading the way, the pharma giant grabbed rights to new product candidates for lung and other types of cancer, convinced that Aduro's platform tech holds great promise for beefing up its oncology pipeline. J&J's $817 million deal includes potential milestones for successful development efforts as it hitched a ride on a tech platform focused on the ability of engineered Listeria monocytogenes strains to kick up an immune response against cancer.

Immunotherapies have emerged as the single hottest R&D strategy of the year. And Aduro, a 2014 Fierce 15 company, has attracted close attention for its use of a failed cancer vaccine--GVAX--as part of a combo approach to direct an attack on cancer. J&J is known for making ambitious plays in this field when it finds a new technology that it likes. And the pharma giant appears to be all in on Aduro.

Back in May J&J signed a $365 million deal covering prostate cancer, a major focus for J&J. The pharma giant also kicked in for a recent $55 million venture round to fund an expanded Phase IIb trial of its cancer combo, which is enrolling about 240 patients into three treatment arms: one receiving the combination treatment, one taking CRS-207 alone and another on standard chemotherapy. The study's primary endpoint is overall survival, and Aduro hopes it'll back up the safety, immune response and efficacy CRS-207 and GVAX have demonstrated thus far.

Aduro is one of the few small biotechs in the cancer field to win a breakthrough drug designation from the FDA. The BTD is designed to grease the regulatory skids for promising new therapies.

Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs

"We believe our LADD technology also offers tremendous promise as a potential treatment for lung cancer and we are pleased to expand our relationship with Janssen, a company with significant experience and resources focused in both lung and prostate cancer," said Stephen Isaacs, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Aduro. "Separately, Aduro continues to make progress with our broad array of immunotherapy platforms in a number of other oncology indications, including pancreatic cancer, mesothelioma and glioblastoma among others."

- here's the release

Special Reports: FierceBiotech's 2014 Fierce 15 - Aduro