Working collaboratively toward improved outcomes

I had the pleasure of attending a keynote lecture by Yusri Elsayed, M.D., M.H.Sc., Ph.D., Vice President of Hematologic Malignancies Disease Area Stronghold Leader at Janssen R&D at the Virtual Scientific Event, “Next Wave of Immune Engagers in Hematological Malignancies” organized by Johnson and Johnson Innovation.

Dr. Elsayed shared that while oncology is one of several therapeutic areas in Janssen, it has been growing rapidly. The focus of the research is on deep disease understanding because deeper knowledge of the biology of disease allows us to develop improved novel therapies. Janssen is structured to focus on certain disease areas, which include hematologic malignancies, prostate cancer and solid tumors, including lung cancer and bladder cancer.

In addition to these, there is an expert focus in immuno-oncology and distinct platforms and capabilities.

This structured scientific approach and focused efforts and investment have contributed to Janssen’s success, and will serve as an important platform for future innovations in oncology.

The strategy is working

Janssen has delivered 10 new medicines in ten years, and has received 11 FDA breakthrough therapy designations, and 3 EMA PRIME designations. These accomplishments are a testament to Janssen’s internal discovery efforts and external innovation, working with strategic partners who are focused in the same scientific areas, from academics to early biotech companies and start-ups, all the way to more established pharmaceutical companies.

Through this network, Janssen is well placed to fulfill its mission of delivering transformational medicines while working towards curative regimens. The vision of Janssen Oncology is a bold one, where we drive towards the elimination of cancer. To achieve this, the focus is on deep disease understanding, breakthrough therapies, early treatment, and curative regimens.

“Partnership and collaboration are in Janssen’s DNA”

Our Chief Scientific Officer emeritus, Paul Stoffels, always said, “The world is our laboratory” and at J&J, we take that to heart. The success in achieving our mission relies on collaboration with different stakeholders, such as academic, biotech and pharmaceutical companies, health authorities, advocacy groups, payers, and cooperative groups. Many of these collaborations have already resulted in drugs that are approved and launched within selected countries.

Advancing the portfolio of immune redirectors

Within hematologic malignancies, Janssen is focusing on, plasma cell malignancies, lymphoid malignancies, and myeloid malignancies. A main focus in the hematological malignancy space is immunotherapy since many of these malignancies are susceptible to immunologic approaches, from monoclonal antibodies to CAR-Ts. Dr. Elsayed highlighted one of the areas where Janssen is more focused, known as immune engager-based approaches, which have the potential to deliver transformational treatments for many different types of patients including those with non-haematlogical malignancies ,

Although no two therapies are alike, there are some desired attributes for the next generation of T-cell redirectors. The first one is safety; experiencing less cytokine release syndrome (CRS), fewer hospitalizations, and less toxicity will potentially allow a larger population of patients with multiple myeloma to receive such treatment. Then, treatment convenience will become an increasingly important factor to consider. Efficacy and durability of response are ultimately very critical and, finally, finding ways to avoid the emergence of resistance.

There are challenges ahead – but we will tackle them together

Through the Janssen Biotherapeutics (JBIO) organisation, leading the discovery and development of monoclonal and multi-specific antibody technologies, Janssen is putting significant effort into strengthening a robust portfolio of T-cell engagers. These efforts are both unique to Janssen and collaborative in nature, with Lava Therapeutics, Genmab, and Teneobio all bringing novel platforms to bear through our agreements with them, which are contributing to the potential and future development of novel immune engagers.

Some of the challenges that lie ahead relate to selecting the right target, but our deep experience and expertise in multiple myeloma and B-cell malignancies present great opportunities. Immune engager-based approaches also hold promise for other diseases, in solid tumors as well as in acute myeloid leukemia, and myeloid malignancies, where the targets are not as defined. Collectively, we will find the targets to go after.

Another important aspect is how to speed up the scientific translation of this work and the targets. To do that, first, we need to develop better predictive preclinical models to screen and move forward the best molecules. Next, we need to address the question of how we can test these strategies in the clinic in the best way possible. When you go to the clinic with novel approaches, the process can be slow. It would be advantageous to get to proof-of-concept more quickly to advance promising opportunities and move on from those that don’t demonstrate potential.

Patients are our focus

One million patients have been treated thanks to our therapies. However, despite the incredible work of Janssen and the oncology community, cancer remains a leading cause of death. Many more patients are waiting for us to develop better medicines that hopefully will lead them to long, lasting remission from their diseases. In this context, workshops and panel discussions with different stakeholders are crucial. They trigger the next wave of collaborations, laying the foundations for tomorrow’s cures.

If you’re an innovator or entrepreneur working on an early-stage health solution, we invite you to get in contact with us via our website.