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Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ) Janssen Biotech, Inc. recently entered into a licensing agreement with Astellas Pharma Inc. for the latter’s Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor, ASP015K. The collaboration is for the global (excluding Japan) development and commercialization of the candidate.

ASP015K is being developed for the once daily oral treatment of moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis - three phase IIb studies are ongoing in the US/Europe and Japan.  Results from a 6-week phase IIa proof of concept study conducted in psoriasis patients showed that ASP015K was well tolerated. Moreover, dose-dependent improvements in Psoriasis Areas Severity Index (PASI) change from baseline were observed.

Terms of the Deal

Per the terms of the agreement, Janssen will develop and commercialize ASP015K across the world, excluding Japan, for immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. Besides making an upfront payment of $65 million to Astellas, Janssen will make payments up to $880 million on the achievement of development and commercialization milestones. Janssen will also pay double-digit royalty to Astellas on sales.

While Astellas is responsible for the completion of the ongoing phase IIb studies, future development, clinical and regulatory activities will be handled by Janssen in its territories. Astellas will remain responsible for all these activities in Japan.

Our Take

Through this deal, Astellas is gaining a suitable partner in Johnson & Johnson, which has a strong presence in the autoimmune disease market. The autoimmune disease market represents huge commercial potential and a once-daily oral formulation would provide patients with a convenient treatment option.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson is looking to strengthen its presence further in the autoimmune disease market. Besides collaborating for the development of ASP015K, the company has a collaboration agreement with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK - Analyst Report) for sirukumab. Sirukumab is in a phase III program for rheumatoid arthritis in adults. Johnson & Johnson has two products in its portfolio for rheumatoid arthritis – Remicade and Simponi.

We currently have a Neutral recommendation on Johnson & Johnson, which carries a Zacks #2 Rank (short-term ‘Buy’ rating).

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