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Janssen Licensing DNA Technology for Hep B Vaccine

Hepatitis B virus particles

Transmission electron micrograph of hepatitis B virus particles (Public Health Image Library, CDC)

13 April 2015. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, is licensing an electronic DNA drug delivery technology from Ichor Medical Systems for vaccines to treat hepatitis B. Ichor, based in San Diego, expects to gain as much as $85 million in the deal.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus that can become a chronic condition, increasing the risk for life-threatening cirrhosis and liver cancer. The disease is spread through contact with blood and other bodily fluids, often from sexual contact or sharing hypodermic needles. World Health Organization calls hepatitis B a major global health problem, affecting some 240 million people with chronic conditions (lasting 6 months or more) and causing 780,000 deaths, mainly from cirrhosis.

Ichor Medical Systems is developing a drug delivery system using electrical impulses to enhance the effectiveness of DNA vaccines that introduce DNA plasmid molecules into cells. Those molecules give instructions to deposit antigens on cell surfaces for stimulating an immune response. The process, called electroporation, sends electrical impulses to create temporary pores in cell membranes, allowing for faster uptake of the DNA payload.

The company says its TriGrid drug delivery system overcomes efficiency problems with DNA vaccines using conventional injections, with a hand-held device that requires minimal user training. The system is being tested in clinical trials with vaccines for several types of cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases. Ichor says early-stage trials show TriGrid is safe and delivers vaccines that generate immune responses.

Under their agreement, Janssen is licensing the TriGrid technology, with the two companies collaborating on a hepatitis B vaccine. Janssen is responsible for some development costs and all commercialization costs in the deal, including expenses for manufacturing and distribution of TriGrid devices. Ichor will receive upfront, R&D, and milestone payments up to $85 million, as well as royalties on future product sales.

In November 2014, Ichor received a 5-year contract from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a platform for producing vaccines that can work immediately with troops in the field, including those already exposed to pathogens. The contract, with a total value of $20.2 million, is supporting further development and clinical trials of the TriGrid system.

Disclosure: The author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson, parent company of Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

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