J&J, following in Sanofi's footsteps, tasks i2o with oral delivery of large molecules

Big Pharma’s embrace of i2o Therapeutics continues. After signing up Sanofi last year, the spinout from Harvard University has started 2022 by disclosing a deal to work with Johnson & Johnson on oral delivery of macromolecules.  

Massachusetts-based i2o spun out of Harvard with an ionic liquid technology designed to address two of the key barriers to oral administration. First, the technology should protect drug molecules from harsh conditions in the gastrointestinal tract. Second, i2o expects its system to help large molecules across the epithelial lining. 

Sanofi Ventures was among the first groups to see the potential of the approach, leading it to take part in a $4 million seed round that set the stage for the deal between its parent company and i2o last year. The Sanofi deal covered the creation of oral nanobody-based medicines.  

J&J joined Sanofi on i2o’s list of Big Pharma partners this week. The collaboration and option agreement positions J&J and i2o to explore the use of the ionic liquid technology in the delivery of macromolecules. 

RELATED: Sanofi taps Harvard spinout for oral nanobody delivery work

Many of J&J’s biggest selling drugs, such as Darzalex and Stelara, are biologics that currently need to be injected. J&J has developed subcutaneous versions of some drugs to minimize burdens on patients and healthcare systems, but the oral delivery of macromolecules remains out of its reach. 

The i2o deal is the latest in a series of actions by J&J intended to enable oral delivery. In recent years, J&J has hosted oral biologics startup Applied Molecular Transport at one its incubators, struck a deal with Protagonist Therapeutics for an oral peptide and, most recently, teamed up with BioMed X Institute to crowdsource ideas about how to resolve the thorny delivery challenge.