Janssen Biotech, the research arm of Johnson & Johnson, will pay Protagonist Therapeutics $50 million for access to an oral peptide in preclinical studies as an inflammatory bowel disease treatment. Protagonist could see another $940 million in milestone payments if the peptide, an IL-23 receptor antagonist dubbed PTG-200, is a commercial success.
The deal bolsters J&J’s portfolio of treatments for inflammatory bowel disease, an umbrella term for chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Last year, J&J gained approval for Stelara, an antibody for Crohn’s disease, and it’s now testing the treatment against ulcerative colitis in a late-stage study. And the firm is planning a Phase III study for its antibody guselkumab in Crohn’s disease. J&J’s venture arm participated in Protagonist’s second major round of funding in 2013.
With PTG-200, J&J is looking to add an oral option to the injected drugs in its repertoire. Although peptides represent a sizable chunk of the pharmacopoeia—more than 60 peptide drugs are on the market—their instability in the body means all must be delivered by injection. Protagonist is one of several companies trying to put peptides into a pill—what CEO Dinesh Patel calls “the holy grail in the field of peptides.”
The biotech firm has spent years trying to overcome the ways peptides are broken down in the gastrointestinal tract. They are myriad: the acids in the gut, the proteases found in the small intestine and colon, the reducing environment in the colon, and the gut microbes that inactivate peptides.
The funds from the J&J deal will help Protagonist advance its lead oral peptide, currently in Phase II studies against ulcerative colitis.