In the latest Johnson & Johnson (J&J) lung cancer-focused effort announced in recent months, AdoRx Therapeutics will partner with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to develop lung cancer treatments, the Scottish drug developer said today.

The new collaboration—whose value was not disclosed—aims to develop treatments using AdoRx’s fit-for-purpose receptor antagonists. They are designed to modulate the effects of high adenosine levels seen in the tumor microenvironment, which according to AdoRx enable cancer to evade the immune system.

AdoRx’s pipeline includes preclinical discovery-phase programs to develop antagonists of the Adenosine A2A receptor, as well as dual blockade of the A2A/A2B receptors.

AdoRx has entered into a strategic collaboration with J&J’s Lung Cancer Initiative and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the umbrella for entities created to support collaborations with early-stage partners.

Under the collaboration, J&J received an exclusive option to research, develop, and commercialize novel antagonists within AdoRx’s portfolio, while the companies plan to collaborate on drug discovery and preclinical development activities.

Founded in 2017 by Epidarex Capital, AdoRx closed in June 2018 on an initial $10 million investment round financed by Epidarex and Sixth Element Capital, which manages the oncology-focused CRT Pioneer Fund. By then, the company had assembled a team whose backgrounds included the discovery of more than 25 clinical candidates, led by CEO Pete Finan, PhD, former head of the Novartis Institutes of BioMedical Research’s UK site.

Oncology is one of J&J’s six therapeutic areas of focus. The other five are cardiovascular and metabolism, immunology, infectious diseases and vaccines, neuroscience, and pulmonary hypertension.

Growing interest in lung cancer

J&J has signaled growing interest in lung cancer.

On February 13, J&J agreed to acquire Auris Health for approximately $3.4 billion in cash, and up to $2.35 billion in additional payments tied to achieving milestones. Privately-held Auris is a developer of robotic technologies with an initial focus on lung cancer, and has won FDA clearance for a platform now used in bronchoscopic diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

In January, J&J Innovation partnered with Veracyte on a long-term strategic collaboration to advance development and commercialization of novel diagnostic tests to detect lung cancer at its earliest stages.

The Veracyte partnership is valued at more than $50 million, consisting of $5 million upfront, up to $15 million in future development and reimbursement milestone payments, and what Veracyte termed the “significant” non-monetary value of clinical cohorts accessible to it through the collaboration.

In November 2018, J&J’s Janssen Biotech launched a potentially more than $1.255 billion collaboration with Seoul-based Yuhan to develop its non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) candidate Lazertinib, now under study in an ongoing Phase I/II trial in South Korea.

Janssen and Yuhan agreed to collaborate on global clinical trials evaluating Lazertinib both in monotherapy and combination regimens; those studies are anticipated to begin this year. Janssen agreed to pay Yuhan $50 million upfront, and up to $1.205 million in potential development and commercial milestone payments, along with tiered double-digit royalties on future net sales.

In addition, earlier last year J&J launched its Lung Cancer Initiative, created to develop treatments for preventing, intercepting, and detecting early-stage lung cancer.

“Johnson & Johnson is uniquely positioned as a company that has assets across the entire spectrum of human health: medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products. If we are really going to intercept a disease as complicated and deadly as lung cancer, one pill or product won’t do it—we need all three of these sectors to work together,” Avrum Spira, MD, global head of the Lung Cancer Initiative, stated on J&J’s website.

Spira added that the Initiative differentiated J&J from most companies developing lung cancer treatments, which he said were focused on treating late-stage disease. “We’re in desperate need of a paradigm shift, and prevention and interception is really the only way forward.” 

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