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Respiration collaboration
July 2010
by Kimberley Sirk  |  Email the author


HORSHAM, Pa.—On June 1, Centocor Ortho Biotech Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Services, announced its acquisition of RespiVert Ltd., a privately held drug discovery company focused on developing small-molecule, inhaled therapies for the treatment of pulmonary diseases.

By purchasing the company, Centocor also becomes the owner of a portfolio of pathbreaking, early-stage inhaled treatments for a list of serious lung diseases, as well as a cadre of scientific expertise.

Scientists at RespiVert, which will retain its own distinct identity after completion of the deal, will drive the collaboration on the new treatment development. RespiVert will continue to maintain its research and discovery presence in London from the Imperial BioIncubator, which is based at the campus of Imperial College London. RespiVert employees will continue to lead ongoing research and drug discovery efforts. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"The acquisition of RespiVert strengthens our pulmonary capabilities and fulfills a key strategy to build a pulmonary franchise," says Brian Kenney, senior director of Global Immunology, Pharmaceutical Communication and Public Affairs for J&J, speaking on behalf of both companies. "We gain access to a portfolio of first-in-class, inhaled treatments and narrow-spectrum kinase inhibitors that are being pursued for the treatment of moderate to severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and potentially, cystic fibrosis."

Dr. Garth Rapeport, CEO of RespiVert, said in a prepared statement that he believes the company he founded offers a wealth of possibilities to its new owner.

"We believe that our focused discovery efforts in pulmonary disease offer a unique opportunity to bring completely new treatment options to patients who suffer from severe, chronic respiratory diseases," stated Rapeport, who will remain with RespiVert after the acquisition is finalized.

Kenney says he sees the long-term potential in harnessing the people and products of RespiVert.

"Importantly, we also gain access to renowned respiratory experts from RespiVert who will play an integral role in advancing the narrow spectrum kinase inhibitor compounds and in enhancing our infrastructure to build core expertise in pulmonary science," Kenney says. "RespiVert employees will remain in London, and the company will continue to operate as an entrepreneurial venture within our Immunology Therapeutic Area. A key priority in continuing to build and strengthen a new pulmonary franchise is to access the best science globally and identify strategic collaborations to bring innovative treatments to patients in need, and we believe the acquisition of RespiVert is certainly representative of this strategic focus."

Centocor's R&D arm is likewise looking forward to welcoming an established team of small- molecule experts to its fold.

"The RespiVert compounds offer the potential for a new class of medicines for patients with severe lung disease who are insensitive to inhaled corticosteroids," adds Dr. Susan Dillon, Global Therapeutic Area Head of Immunology at Centocor Research and Development. "The addition of RespiVert's expert scientific team and discovery platforms for inhaled medicines strengthens our capabilities and further builds our pipeline of novel oral and biologic therapies for serious pulmonary diseases."

RespiVert's lead compounds, RV-568 and RV-1088, which are narrow-spectrum kinase inhibitors that also possess the traits of anti- inflammatory treatments, are progressing into clinical development as potential first-in-class treatments for moderate to severe asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis. Centocor has expertise in developing therapies for other difficult-to-treat conditions in the pulmonary space.

"Our internal discovery and research efforts have led to a pipeline of promising biologic and oral therapies for respiratory diseases that includes multiple assets in early development," adds Kenney. "For example, Simponi and Stelara are in Phase II study for sarcoidosis, and CNTO 888 is in Phase II study for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. We have several other large- and small-molecule agents in early development, as well. "

Kenney concludes by saying that the timing was right for bringing in a company to accelerate Johnson & Johnson's steady gains in treatment of these well-known, but still intractable, pulmonary concerns.

"We remain focused on continuing to build and strengthen a pulmonary franchise and the acquisition of RespiVert brings us closer to this goal with the addition of novel small-molecule, inhaled compounds to complement our existing internal pipeline of promising oral and biologic therapies in this therapeutic area," Kenney says. "We believe that through our portfolio we have the potential to offer innovative therapies in diseases with immunologic components like severe asthma and COPD."

Centocor seeks to improve patient care in immunology, nephrology and oncology. The company was formed when Centocor Inc. and Ortho Biotech Inc. were consolidated in late 2008. The company works in both the large-molecule and small-molecule research space. Beyond drug discovery and development, Centocor creates and drives education and public policy initiatives to ensure patients and their families, caregivers, advocates and healthcare professionals have access to the latest treatment information, support services and quality care.

RespiVert is a small-molecule drug discovery company working toward the identification of new treatments for patients with COPD, cystic fibrosis and severe asthma. The more severe forms of these diseases respond poorly to existing therapies such as inhaled corticosteroids. RespiVert has been financed by Advent Venture Partners, Fidelity Biosciences, Imperial Innovations and SV Life Sciences.

Code: E071021



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