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Zymeworks, Janssen in $1.45B Antibody Licensing Deal

Computational biology illustration

(Lawrence Livermore National Lab)

13 November 2017. Janssen Biotech, a division of drug maker Johnson & Johnson, is acquiring technologies that make it possible to create synthetic antibodies that hit multiple targets. The agreement could bring biotechnology company Zymeworks Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia as much as $1.45 billion if all parts of the deal are completed.

Zymeworks designs engineered proteins for therapies that it says are derived from algorithms and simulations to better understand the physical structure of protein chemistry. This simulation engine makes it possible to perform multiple virtual experiments with proposed synthetic proteins to discover properties that meet desired therapeutic needs.

The company says that from these technological capabilities, it develops several types of synthetic proteins for biological drugs. Zymeworks’ Azymetric platform creates proteins resembling common immunoglobulin G, or IgG, antibodies that account for about three-quarters of immunoglobulins in humans. With the Azymetric platform, the company says it can produce highly-targeted IgG-like antibodies with high stability and durability, but with changes in their amino acid structure that also can bind to two antigen targets. One product from the Azymetric platform, code-named ZW25, is in an early-stage clinical trial as a treatment for breast cancer addressing HER2 proteins.

Zymeworks says its technology can also produce antibodies that alter the fragment crystallizable, or Fc, region of immunoglobulin G antibodies. This part of IgG antibodies is important in binding to antigens, and by manipulating these properties, says the company, it can refine the impact of engineered antibodies to deliver higher-powered payloads or minimize adverse effects. Zymeworks says this platform it calls Effector Function Enhancement and Control Technology, or Efect, is producing a library of Fc modifications for engineered proteins.

The agreement provides Janssen Biotech with a worldwide license to develop up to 6 synthetic bi-specific antibodies incorporating features from Zymeworks’ Azymetric and Efect platforms, addressing targets identified by Janssen. Under the deal, Janssen is responsible for all research, development, and commercialization of these antibodies.

The deal provides Zymeworks with an initial payment of $50 million, with the company eligible for another $282 million in development milestone payments. If the products reach commercialization stages, Zymeworks will also be eligible for further milestone payments and royalties valued at $1.12 billion. In addition, Janssen has an option to develop 2 more bi-specific antibodies, with Zymeworks eligible for a future undisclosed option payment.

Janssen says it has a number of synthetic antibodies in development for cancer, immune system disorders, cardiovascular, metabolic, and infectious diseases. The agreement with Janssen is not an exclusive license, however. Zymeworks also has licensing agreements with drug makers Celgene, Daiichi Sankyo, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly and Company, and Merck.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson

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