Another Belgian biotech on the up and up: argenx just closed a billion-dollar deal with Janssen Pharmaceutica for their antibody cusatuzumab. Under the terms of the agreement, Janssen will pay argenx $300 million in an upfront payment and Johnson & Johnson Innovation Inc. (JJDC) will purchase $200 million worth of newly issued argenx shares. Furthermore, argenx will be eligible to receive up to $1.6 billion in milestones payments.
Argenx has had a busy few months this year, culminating in a thrilling new deal with Janssen Pharmaceutica announced yesterday. Their winning streak has already been going for several months, with news including positive clinical trial results and a public offering that raised over 300 million dollars.
Following hot on the tail of Galapagos, whose public offering also raised over 300 million mere days before argenx did, the Ghent-based company provides yet another example of an independent Belgian biotech company catching the limelight on the international stage. This year has indeed been an exciting time to be involved in the Belgian life sciences business sector.
The deal between argenx and Janssen concerns the development and commercialization of cusatuzumab (ARGX-110), an antibody under investigation for the treatment of hematological malignancies (such as leukemias and lymphomas), several solid tumors and severe autoimmune diseases. Cusatuzumab is designed to kill cancer cells and restore immune surveillance against solid tumors. The candidate is currently in Phase I/II clinical trials for indications including acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL).
“AML continues to be an aggressive and deadly cancer of the blood and bone marrow with very high relapse rates. Cusatuzumab offers a novel mode of action targeting leukemic stem cells, which are a known driver of the relapse mechanism, and has shown a compelling response rate and tolerability profile to date,” said Tim Van Hauwermeiren, CEO of argenx.
“Janssen is an ideal strategic partner for us to develop this differentiated investigational therapy given its extensive clinical, regulatory and commercial expertise in oncology, and we believe that through this collaboration we are best positioned to reach the broadest number of patients as quickly as possible.
The collaboration also strengthens our financial position, enabling our growth into a fully-integrated organization as we continue to exploit our deep pipeline of wholly-owned product candidates, including our lead product candidate efgartigimod which we are evaluating in four severe autoimmune indications.”
I think the argenx and Janssen deal shows, once again, that Belgian biotech is maturing. -
Lenny Van Steenhuyse, KBC Securities
Under the terms of the Janssen deal, argenx will retain the right to participate in US commercialization of cusatuzumab, where the two companies will share economics 50:50. Outside the US, Janssen will be paying double-digit sales royalties to argenx. The companies have also agreed to evaluate cusatuzumab other potential future indications.
"We are pleased to enter into this strategic partnership with argenx and advance a promising antibody for the treatment of AML and other blood cancers where current treatment is limited and effective new interventions are needed for patients," said Mathai Mammen, M.D., Ph.D., Global Head, Janssen Research & Development, LLC.
"The addition of cusatuzumab deepens our portfolio and adds to our expertise in oncology, and more importantly, it reflects our commitment to combine Janssen's strengths with those of other outstanding teams to advance science that we believe can transform the treatment of diseases and the lives of patients worldwide."
Bright Belgian biotechs
The Ghent-based company argenx was founded just a decade ago, in 2008. Their pipeline is based on antibody therapies for the treatment of severe auto-immune diseases and cancers. Just like Ablynx, another Belgian biotech that sold in early 2018 for 3.9 billion euros, argenx technology draws on the llama immune system in the creation of new antibody treatments.
AML continues to be an aggressive and deadly cancer of the blood and bone marrow with very high relapse rates. Cusatuzumab offers a novel mode of action targeting leukemic stem cells. - Tim Van Hauwermeiren, argenx
The company is focused on developing product candidates with the potential to be either first-in-class against novel targets or best-in-class against known, but complex, targets in order to treat diseases with a significant unmet medical need. argenx’s ability to execute on this focus is enabled by its suite of differentiated technologies. The SIMPLE Antibody™ Platform, based on the powerful llama immune system, allows argenx to exploit novel and complex targets, and its three complementary Fc engineering technologies are designed to expand the therapeutic index of its product candidates.
The company has been on a roll over the last few years, with an impressive $115 million IPO on the Nasdaq, topped by a $231 million offering in 2017 and the $300 million public offering earlier this year. This is also not the first time argenx has closed a large biopharma deal; back in 2016, it penned a major $685 million preclinical immuno-oncology deal with AbbVie for another antibody, ARGX-115.
Lenny Van Steenhuyse, Financial analyst biotech/healthcare at KBC Securities, commented on yesterday’s news, saying:
“I think the argenx and Janssen deal shows, once again, that Belgian biotech is maturing. We’ve seen several other multi-million-dollar deals and buyouts, like those of Galapagos and Ablynx, in the past years. Deals of this size are however remarkable. Galapagos did a similar deal with Gilead at the end of 2015 for Filgotinib, but this asset was more mature and already in late-stage clinical development. In comparison, argenx is now starting the phase II arm of its phase I/II trial with cusatuzumab.
“Galapagos was able to pursue multiple indications with Filgotinib through their partnership with Gilead and further expand their internal pipeline. Likewise, argenx will be able to use the cash generated to carry the development of another, more mature product: their lead candidate efgartigimod (ARGX113). Both Galapagos and argenx are enabling their own growth into late-stage clinical development companies through collaborations with large, international (bio)pharma companies.”
Image credit: argenx