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J&J Adds Another Bispecific Antibody for Atopic Dermatitis With $1.25B Acquisition

Johnson & Johnson is acquiring a bispecific antibody that Numab Therapeutics engineered to address two pathways associated with the inflammation and itching of atopic dermatitis. It’s J&J’s second immunology acquisition this month.

Johnson & Johnson is building up its immunology pipeline, striking a $1.25 billion deal for a bispecific antibody in development for atopic dermatitis — its second acquisition agreement in the indication in the past two weeks.

The deal announced Tuesday will bring J&J a Numab Therapeutics drug codenamed NM26. The pharmaceutical giant is acquiring global rights to the experimental treatment, which is ready to enter Phase 2 testing.

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is the most common inflammatory skin disease. While the disorder typically presents as red and itchy skin, it stems from multiple pathways that vary from one group of patients to another. NM26 is a bispecific antibody designed to address two of those disease-driving pathways: the IL-4R alpha subunit, which triggers skin inflammation mediated by Th2 immune cells, and IL-31, which is associated with skin itch and scratching that worsen the disease. J&J also believes NM26 has the potential for broad applications in skin diseases due to its ability to address Th2 cells, which play a role in other conditions characterized by inflammation and itching. Switzerland-based Numab discovered and engineered NM26 with its platform technology for developing multi-specific antibody drugs.

The ability to address two atopic dermatitis-driving pathways with a single drug was one of the motivations for J&J’s $850 million Proteologix acquisition, which was announced on May 16. Proteologix’s most advanced program is PX128, a bispecific antibody that targets IL-13 and TSLP. J&J plans to advance the drug into clinical testing in atopic dermatitis and asthma. The role that TSLP plays in inflammation has made it a hot target for drug research. Companies developing TSLP-targeting drugs include Sanofi, GSK, and the recently uncloaked startup Uniquity Bio.

J&J has experience with bispecific antibodies, having developed and commercialized Tecvayli and Talvey, each drug designed to hit a different cancer target to treat multiple myeloma. The pharmaceutical giant has said its broad portfolio of multiple myeloma therapies offers treatment options for patients who have relapsed or don’t respond to other treatments. In atopic dermatitis, multiple drug candidates addressing more than one target could treat patients according to the pathways driving their disease, said David Lee, global immunology therapeutic area head, Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine.

“To deliver durable, symptom-free remission for the millions of people living with [atopic dermatitis], our medicines need to be tailored to target multiple disease-driving pathways in different patient subpopulations,” Lee said in a prepared statement. “That’s why we are committed to developing differentiated bispecifics that combine the targeting of two distinct disease-driving pathways. NM26 has the potential to deliver a treatment specifically for patients who have inflamed skin associated with intense itching.”

According to the deal terms, J&J is acquiring all of the shares of a Numab subsidiary called Yellow Jersey Therapeutics, which houses the NM26 program. The pharma giant expects to close the deal for NM26 in the second half of this year. Asia-Pacific rights to the therapeutic candidate are held by Japan-based Kaken Pharmaceutical. J&J said it will enter a separate agreement to secure Kaken’s rights to NM26.

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