BioPharma, Pharma

J&J Joins Chase for Hot Immunology Target With $850M Proteologix Acquisition

Johnson & Johnson’s Proteologix acquisition adds a pipeline of bispecific antibodies, including an experimental treatment for asthma and atopic dermatitis. It’s the latest M&A deal involving molecules addressing TSLP, a key signaling protein involved in inflammation.

Johnson & Johnson is boosting its immunology and inflammation drug pipeline with the acquisition of Proteologix, a startup whose most advanced program is ready for Phase 1 testing in asthma and atopic dermatitis.

According to deal terms announced Thursday, J&J will pay $850 million in cash. San Carlos, California-based Proteologix could receive more depending on the progress of its drug candidates, but no details about the milestones were disclosed.

Lead Proteologix asset PX128 is a bispecific antibody designed to target IL-13 and TSLP. IL-13 is a signaling protein that’s already addressed by several atopic dermatitis drugs, including the blockbuster Sanofi/Regeneron Pharmaceuticals medication Dupixent. PX128’s targeting of IL-13 and TSLP is more comparable to the experimental Sanofi drug lunsekimab, a bispecific antibody that also addresses both targets. Lunsekimab is in Phase 2 testing in asthma.

TSLP’s role in inflammation has made it an attractive target for drug research. A growing number of biopharma companies are striking deals for TSLP-targeting antibodies, including Uniquity Bio, a Blackstone Life Sciences-backed startup that emerged from stealth this week with a Phase 2-ready antibody licensed from Merck. Other companies with clinical-stage TSLP programs include GSK and Upstream Bio.

PX128 is ready to enter the clinic, where J&J plans to test it in moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, as well as moderate-to-severe asthma. A second Proteologix drug, PX130, targets IL-13 and IL-22. This bispecific antibody is in preclinical development for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis. Since both atopic dermatitis and asthma stem from multiple disease-driving pathways, J&J believes a drug that targets more than one pathway offers the potential for better efficacy and remission rates. In a prepared statement, David Lee, global immunology therapeutic area head, Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine, said 70% of the more than 100 million adults with atopic dermatitis worldwide do not achieve remission with standard of care therapies. He added that these drugs either target a single pathway and have limited efficacy or they are broadly immunosuppressive, raising safety risks.

“We see an opportunity for best-in-disease efficacy for both PX128 and PX130 as each bispecific antibody targets two different combinations of disease driving pathways that are mediating the skin inflammation in heterogenous subpopulations of [atopic dermatitis] patients,” Lee said.

The J&J immunology pipeline already has the antibody drug candidate JNJ-4703, which is in mid-stage clinical development for atopic dermatitis and rheumatoid arthritis. Besides the two most advanced Proteologix programs, the startup brings other bispecific antibody programs in development for diseases that were not specified.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

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Proteologix gives J&J more shots on goal following an earlier miss in inflammatory skin diseases. In 2020, the pharma giant paid XBiotech $750 million for rights to birmekimab, an IL-1alpha-targeting antibody that was in mid-stage clinical development for atopic dermatitis and hidrandentis suppurativa. After the drug posted disappointing clinical data in 2022, J&J decided to terminate development of the drug.

J&J expects to close the Proteologix acquisition in the middle of this year.

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