J&J snaps up Nanobiotix cancer radiotherapy in $2.5bn+ deal

Nanobiotix CEO Laurent Levy

Johnson & Johnson has bolstered its oncology pipeline by licensing a drug from Nanobiotix designed to enhance the effectiveness of radiotherapy for solid tumours.

J&J’s Janssen unit is paying $60 million in upfront fees and funding for an exclusive worldwide license to NBTXR3, a radio-enhancer that has been approved in Europe as Hensify as a treatment for locally-advanced soft tissue sarcomas since 2019.

The drug is an aqueous suspension of crystalline hafnium oxide (HfO2) nanoparticles designed for injection directly into a tumour before a patient’s first dose of radiotherapy. When exposed to ionising radiation, NBTXR3 amplifies the effect of the radiation within the tumour, while the dose passing through healthy tissues remains unchanged.

Sarcoma is a relatively small indication for the drug and J&J’s interest stems mainly from its potential as a treatment for head and neck cancer, currently being tested in the phase 3 NANORAY-132 study, which started dosing patients last December.

Analysts at Jefferies have previously suggested that NBTXR3 could potentially be used in around two-thirds of all radiotherapy procedures for treating cancer.

Crucially for Nanobiotix, bringing J&J on board includes near-term funding for the trial, due to read out in the second half of next year, as its own finances have started to dwindle and it has been forced to trim back its pipeline to conserve cash.

The French and US biotech ended the first quarter with around €30 million in cash, down from €40 million at the end of 2022, and said recently that would last it only into the third quarter of this year.

J&J is providing up to $30 million to complete NANORAY-132 as part of its upfront support and has also pledged up to $1.8 billion in development, regulatory, and sales milestones in head and neck cancer.

Also on the table is another $650 million for up to five additional indications that J&J may choose to develop on its own – including a phase 2 programme in advanced lung cancer – and $200 million for joint development projects.

The deal covers all global markets except for China and a handful of other markets in Asia, where Nanobiotix previously licensed NBTXR3 to LianBio.

Shares in Nasdaq-listed Nanobiotix barely moved after the announcement this morning, mainly because they had already skyrocketed in May after the company revealed it was in late-stage negotiations with a “major global pharmaceutical company”.

The biotech’s chief executive, Laurent Levy, said that the deal with J&J will help NBTXR3 potentially reach “millions of patients around the world.”

Nanobiotix held back from a commercial launch in Europe after the sarcoma approval, saying it would wait for additional uses to be added to its label, but has made it available to patients on a compassionate-use basis.