Johnson & Johnson/Momenta Pharmaceuticals
Deal value: $6.5 billion
Premium to previous closing price: 70%
Date announced: Aug. 19, 2020
In another immunology-focused deal last year aside from AstraZeneca’s $39 billion Alexion pact, Johnson & Johnson plunked down $6.5 billion for Momenta Pharmaceuticals.
At the center of the deal was nipocalimab, an FcRn inhibitor that’s in development for autoimmune diseases. J&J believes the drug has peak sales potential exceeding $1 billion.
The drug had earlier passed a mid-stage trial in patients with the neuromuscular disorder myasthenia gravis (MG). And J&J plans to explore a broad range of autoantibody-driven indications, such as hemolytic diseases of the newborn, warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia, and others in rheumatology, dermatology and hematology.
But FcRn is a hotly pursued target. Argenx’s efgartigimod is the most advanced project in the class, having hit its myasthenia gravis phase 3 trial goal in May. To speed up its upcoming FDA review, the company bought an FDA priority review voucher from Bayer for $98 million.
UCB is working on rozanolixizumab, whose phase 3 MG study is expected to read out mid-2021. And Immunovant has IMVT-1401, which it licensed from HanAll Biopharma. That drug reported phase 2a MG data, and a registration-enabling phase 3 trial is expected to start in the first half of 2021.
Interestingly, the AZ-Alexion deal also has an FcRn component. Alexion, through its acquisition of Syntimmune in 2018, obtained what’s now known as ALXN1830. Phase 2 trials of the drug in MG and warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia have been delayed by COVID-19. Alexion’s C5 inhibitor Soliris is also approved to treat MG.
Momenta wasn’t always the innovation-focused type of company that J&J would be interested in. The Cambridge, Massachusetts, biotech was previously better known as a generic and biosimilar drugmaker. It successfully developed Novartis’ Glatopa, the first FDA-approved copycat to Teva’s multiple sclerosis therapy Copaxone.
But in October 2018, Momenta decided to essentially exit the biosimilars business, ditching most of its biosimilar pipeline, along with half of its workforce and executive team. Nearly a year later, it also ceased development of a version of AbbVie’s Humira “due to changes in the market opportunity,” the company said at the time. That left a Mylan-partnered copy to Regeneron’s blockbuster eye drug Eylea as the only remaining biosimilar project in Momenta’s pipeline, with an FDA submission expected in 2021.
In the immunology field, J&J owns aging Humira rival Remicade, which is itself under biosimilar attack. Ulcerative colitis drug Stelara and psoriatic arthritis med Tremfya are currently the growth drivers of J&J’s immunology franchise, which altogether hauled in $3.8 billion in third-quarter sales and ranked as the largest branch in the company’s pharma department.
Besides nipocalimab and the Eylea biosimilar, Momenta also has a hypersialylated human IgG called M234 in development for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.