J&J biospecific antibody deal could net Zymeworks up to $1.5bn

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Immune system

Janssen Biotech has selected Zymeworks’ Azymetric and Effect platforms to make bispecific antibody therapeutics.

Under the agreement, Janssen – owned by Johnson & Johnson – will pay Zymeworks $50m (€42m) to license the platforms, and develop up to six therapeutic agents.

Janssen will be responsible for all research, development and commercial activities, Zymeworks' CEO Ali Tehrani told us, adding that the license is not exclusive for any targets.

Zymeworks is eligible to receive a potential $282m in development and up to $1.12bn in milestone payments and royalties, and Janssen has the option to develop two additional bispecific programmes, subject to a future payment option.

Tehrani did not disclose which targets or indications are being pursued under the agreement.

Zymeworks said the Azymetric and Effector Function Enhancement and Control Technology (Effect) platforms’ bispecific antibodies retain the desirable features of typical monoclonal antibodies, citing long serum half-life, the ability to mediate effector functions, and low immunogenicity risk.

Further, “they allow for the design and evaluation of multiple candidates with different formats to determine the optimal therapeutic combination early in development,” ​said the Tehrani.

Whereas the Effect platform is comprised of a library of Fc modifications, that can ‘modulate’ the activity of recruited immune cells, the Azymetric platform is made up of transferable, amino acid changes that can be introduced to generate bispecific IgG-like antibodies that bind two antigens.

“Unlike many other bispecific platforms, the Azymetric platform is compatible with alternative antigen binding formats and cytotoxic conjugates (e.g. ADCs),” ​said the firm.

“This flexibility allows us to quickly test different target biologies and mechanisms of action to identify the format with the best possible efficacy,” ​Zymeworks added.

Bispecific antibodies – antibodies that bind two different epitopes either on the same or different target – have attracted attention for biopharmaceutical firms in recent years.

In 2014, Zheijiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Company announced​ it would use Ambrx’s antibody platform to make and commercialise bispecifics, and last year Kymab said​ signed a deal for EpimAb Biotherapeutics’ bispecific antibody generating technology.  

Last month, Merck (MSD) said it plans​ to advance a bispecific drug candidate – developed using Zymeworks’ Azymetric and Effect platforms – into preclinical development.

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