Johnson & Johnson Spends $2 Billion to Buy Ambrx and Expand in Oncology

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Johnson & Johnson announced Monday that it will acquire clinical-stage biotech Ambrx Biopharma for $2 billion, making a big bet on Ambrx’s proprietary platform for developing next-generation antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) to treat cancer.

The acquisition provides Johnson & Johnson access to Ambrx’s promising pipeline of ADC candidates, while also allowing the healthcare giant to leverage Ambrx’s novel conjugate technology that improves the efficacy and safety of ADCs. Ambrx’s proprietary platform incorporates synthetic amino acids to allow site-specific conjugation of antibodies to toxic payloads, creating more stable ADCs with less off-target effects.

Johnson & Johnson is particularly interested in Ambrx’s lead asset ARX517, an anti-PSMA ADC currently in Phase 1/2 development for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). Prostate cancer has long been a focus for J&J and its Janssen pharmaceuticals unit, with blockbuster prostate cancer drug Zytiga bringing in over $2 billion in annual sales prior to losing patent protection in 2019.

The pressing need for improved mCRPC treatments provided additional impetus for the deal. Over 185,000 men in the U.S. currently have mCRPC, with a poor median overall survival of less than two years. The early data for ARX517 demonstrates promising anti-tumor activity, and Johnson & Johnson believes the drug could become a first-in-class targeted ADC therapy for mCRPC if approved.

“We see a unique opportunity to harness the potential of this innovative ADC platform, and with our deep understanding of prostate cancer, deliver a targeted PSMA therapeutic for addressing the growing needs of the more than 185,000 patients living with metastatic castration-resistant disease today,” said Dr. Yusri Elsayed, Global Therapeutic Area Head for Oncology at Johnson & Johnson.

Beyond ARX517, Ambrx has several other ADC candidates in its pipeline targeting cancer antigens like HER2 and CD70, providing Johnson & Johnson with a robust suite of new ADC therapies that can be optimized using Ambrx’s conjugate technology.

The acquisition reflects Johnson & Johnson’s strategy of using deals to access innovation, especially in high-potential areas like oncology. With in-house R&D productivity under scrutiny, major players like J&J and its pharma peers have turned to M&A to supplement pipeline development. Cancer has been the top therapy area target for M&A over the past 5 years, according to EY data, demonstrating the demand for innovative oncology drugs.

Ambrx was founded in 2003 as a spin-out from The Scripps Research Institute. The company raised over $200 million in venture capital and held its IPO in 2021, listing on the NASDAQ exchange. The $2 billion buyout price represents a nice return for Ambrx’s backers and shareholders.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2024, pending approval from Ambrx stockholders as well as regulatory clearance. Upon completion of the acquisition, Ambrx’s stock will be delisted and it will no longer be an independent public company.

Johnson & Johnson’s acquisition of Ambrx highlights the pharma industry’s race to find new modalities like ADCs that can precisely target cancer cells while minimizing side effects. With cancer poised to become the leading cause of death globally, the need for better tolerated treatments has never been more pressing. J&J is making a big bet that Ambrx’s next-gen ADC platform can yield breakthroughs in achieving that goal.

Take a moment to take a look at Noble Capital Markets’ Senior Research Analyst Robert LeBoyer’s coverage universe.

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