J&J takes an early interest in biotech startup Alector’s approach to Alzheimer’s treatment

Alzheimer'sIn another move to potentially beef up its Alzheimer’s pipeline, Johnson & Johnson has struck a drug development deal with one of the companies located at its innovation lab in San Francisco.

J&J’s Innovation Center and San Francisco drug startup Alector announced today a deal under which Janssen will fund early R&D efforts for one of Alector’s targets, with the option to negotiate a commercial agreement if the startup can show proof of concept.

Alector came out of stealth mode last year when it raised an undisclosed Series A from OrbiMed Advisors and Polaris Venture Partners. But it still isn’t talking specifics about the monoclonal antibody it’s developing, aside from saying that it will leverage “recent discoveries in neuroimmunolgy and human genetics” to aim at disease-altering targets for Alzheimer’s.

That’s a bit of a different approach than some of the so-called disease-modifying therapies that have disappointed in clinical trials over the past few years, including J&J’s own bapineuzumab. With more than 7 million people expected to develop the disease by 2025, drug companies (and the NIH) are making a push to better understand the complex disease and develop treatments that would slow or halt its progression at an early stage.


Janssen has also recently invested in Rodin Therapeutics, which is developing drugs for neurological disorders based on its knowledge about changes in gene expression seen in the disease. It also inked a deal with Evotec AG for access to the company’s database of genes it has found to be dyregulated in Alzheimer’s patients.

Alector is developing leads for four major targets in neurodegenerative diseases and is working in a strategic alliance with Adimab, a drug discovery companies with close ties to the startup. Its co-founder and CEO is Tillman Gerngross, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth College, who is also a co-founder and board chairman of Alector. His previous research led to the formation of biotech company GlycoFI, which Merck ponied up $400 million for in 2006.

Alector is based at Janssen Labs @QB3 in San Francisco.

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