Amunix Operating said today its eight-month-old research collaboration and licensing agreement with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Biotech unit will expand now that an option has been exercised for the development of an additional therapeutic molecule that Janssen will select. Amunix will combine its XTEN half-life technology with the molecule.

Janssen will be responsible for all preclinical and clinical development as well as commercialization of the product. Amunix will receive an option payment in addition to research funding and will be eligible for future milestone and royalty payments. Payment amounts and other financial terms were not disclosed.

Amunix’ half-life extension technology is based on XTEN, hydrophilic, unstructured, biodegradable polypeptides that can be recombinantly fused or chemically conjugated to peptides, proteins, and other pharmaceuticals. XTEN imparts favorable properties upon the molecules to which it is attached, including lower dosing frequency and more stable plasma drug concentrations.

Two genetically-fused XTENylated products, VRS-859 (Exenatide-XTEN) and VRS-317 (hGH-XTEN) have completed Phase Ia studies through partners Diartis and Versartis, respectively. VRS-317 is now undergoing a Phase Ib/IIa trial in pediatric growth hormone deficient patients.

Amunix and Janssen entered into their collaboration in January. At the time, Amunix said it would assist Janssen in engineering up to three XTEN fusion proteins, in return for Janssen overseeing all preclinical and clinical development as well as manufacturing and commercialization of the resulting products. Under their original agreement, Amunix received an undisclosed initial upfront payment in addition to R&D funding, and was eligible for future milestone and royalty payments.

“Amunix continues to advance its XTEN half-life extension platform and remains focused on its application in advancing therapeutics,” Volker Schellenberger, Ph.D., Amunix president and CEO, said in a statement. “We are very pleased with the progress of our collaboration with Janssen.”

Amunix is also working with Biogen Idec in hemophilia, and with several other undisclosed partners in various other therapeutic areas.

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