Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Big Pharma's J&J Buys Into California Stem Cell Therapy Research for Heart Disease

California's $27 million investment involving a Beverly Hills stem cell firm is paying off once again as the business attracted a major, financial vote of confidence from Big Pharma's Johnson&Johnson.

The firm, Capricor Therapeutics, last month received approval for a phase two clinical trial for its heart disease therapy. Yesterday, it announced that the Janssen Biotech arm of Johnson&Johnson was immediately pumping $12.5 million into the product with the potential of $325 million more, depending on the outcome of the phase two trial.

Linda Marban
Capricor photo
John Carroll of Fierce Biotech wrote that the move marked a “rare Big Pharma gamble on a field that is trying hard to mount a comeback.” The California stem cell agency, which is funding the phase two trial, said the news was “heartening”and a represented a “very good start” to the year for Capricor.

Linda Marban, CEO of Capricor, told Fierce Biotech that J&J had been probing Capricor for a year. She said, 
“One of the reasons why I was motivated to work on this deal is because of the statement it makes in the field. It says, OK, somebody very large and powerful is taking a look at this technology and saying there's something there, and that's the most exciting thing for me."
Interest from the “large and powerful” is of major importance not only to Capricor but to the stem cell agency, which runs out of state money for new research grants in 2017. It is slowly trying to develop other sources of revenue, and it has yet to bring a therapy to market despite promises to voters during the 2004 ballot campaign that created the agency. Votes of confidence from Big Pharma will go a long way in encouraging investment in the agency and the stem cell field generally.

Investors indeed were more than encouraged by the yesterday's news, which sent Capricor's stock soaring 48 percent. It closed at $5.06 yesterday, up from $3.40 on Friday. Marban has said the firm hopes to be profitable by 2018.

Johnson&Johnson's investment is not the first tied to a key executive at Capricor, Frank Litvack, who is executive chairman of the firm. Litvack, who unsuccessfully ran in 2011 against Jonathan Thomas for the chairmanship of the stem cell agency, sold Conor MedSystems to J&J for $1.6 billion in 2006.

Bradley Fikes of the San Diego U-T discussed the Capricor research late last month in some detail. One of the phase one trial sites was at Scripps Health. Fikes wrote,
Mark Athens received Capricor’s treatment on Sept. 25, about a month after having a moderate heart attack. The Encinitas resident was the last treated under Phase 1, said Scripps cardiologist Richard Schatz, who performed the procedure. It will take about six months to know whether the treatment worked, Schatz said.”
Fikes continued,
“'All their previous work showed that the scar got smaller and the muscle tissue around it got more robust,' Schatz said. 'So two things happened: The viable tissue got bigger and the scar got smaller. And that should translate into some sort of clinical benefit down the road.'”
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