J&J taps tiny Bioasis for tech to cross blood-brain barrier

Johnson & Johnson has turned to Bioasis for help getting drugs across the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The deal grants J&J’s Janssen the chance to use a human transport protein to shuttle drug molecules across the barrier to targets in the brain.

Efforts to treat brain tumors, neurological diseases and other conditions involving targets on the other side of the BBB are impeded by the limited range of molecules capable of crossing the barrier. The BBB is designed to protect the brain from toxins and pathogens. As such, while it allows substances essential for the functioning of the brain to pass in and out, the barrier stops most other molecules from crossing.

Bioasis, a nanocap stock, is one of a clutch of groups working on ways to bypass the barrier. The result, xB3, is a platform based on human transport protein that circulates at low levels in the blood. When the protein binds to LRP1 receptors on the BBB, it and whatever molecule it is attached to are transported into vesicles that cross the barrier and enter the brain. Bioasis’ platform piggybacks on that process.

By connecting the iron-binding transport molecule to a therapeutic payload, Bioasis thinks it can get drugs that would otherwise be blocked by the barrier into the brain. The platform is applicable to monoclonal antibodies, enzymes and small interfering RNA molecules that Bioasis binds to transporters using chemical linkage or genetic fusion.

Bioasis has drummed up some interest in the drug delivery technology, with Chiesi, Daiichi Sankyo and Prothena among the companies to enter into deals with the tiny biotech. J&J has now joined that list, inking a deal that gives it the option to research, develop and commercialize products based on Bioasis’ platform.

Neither party has shared the financial terms of the deal. Bioasis flagged up financial difficulties at the start of the year, warning investors of “a material uncertainty that may raise significant doubt about [its] ability to continue as a going concern.” At that time, Bioasis said it had enough cash to fund its operation “through approximately May 2022.”