J&J Maps Research Plans for Actelion -- WSJ

Aim is to build new unit into an organization for drug discovery and commercialization Aim is to build up the new unit into a drug discovery and commer- cialization organization

Johnson & Johnson plans to build the soon-to-be acquired Actelion business into a drug discovery-to-commercialization organization dedicated to pulmonary arterial hypertension, according to Jane Griffiths, who will become head of the unit when the deal closes.

The U.S. drug giant in January agreed to acquire Allschwil, Switzerland-based Actelion Ltd for $30 billion, in an unusual deal that will spin the Swiss company's early research and development organization into an independent company. The deal is expected to close Friday.

The deal will hand J&J a clutch of promising new drugs that will bolster its portfolio of rare-disease treatments as its top-selling drug, Remicade, faces new competition. Actelion sells five PAH drugs, a gel for a rare form of skin cancer and a treatment for a rare genetic condition known as Gaucher disease. In addition to Actelion's marketed drugs, J&J will acquire a handful of late-stage research programs.

J&J's pharmaceutical arm Janssen is organized into five units, each dedicated to a particular disease area. Actelion will become the sixth, focused on PAH, a rare artery disorder that causes breathing difficulties, Ms. Griffiths said.

Each of those units behaves like a self-contained drugmaker, spanning early-stage research and development through to commercial operations. Ms. Griffiths, currently group chairman at Janssen's Europe, Middle East and Africa business, said she wanted to "mirror that same therapeutic area structure" with the Actelion business.

To begin with, the new unit will have only late-stage research and marketed drugs, but Ms. Griffiths said she planned to build drug discovery and early-stage research operations, too. "The [drug] discovery people have not come across, but we have some people with deep knowledge of PAH that can act as a nucleus," she said. "Or we may need to augment it."

Ms. Griffiths also said she would review the fate of two non-PAH drugs in Actelion's late-stage pipeline -- one for multiple sclerosis and one for C. difficile infections -- when she takes charge of the business.

"For the moment, they stay in Actelion," she said, adding that experts from elsewhere in Janssen will be looking at these drugs to help decide whether they would be better placed in another therapeutic area unit.

Meanwhile, Actelion's early-stage research and development organization will become an independent company run by the Swiss company's co-founder, Jean-Paul Clozel. The spinoff, which helped address Dr. Clozel's longstanding resistance to selling the business over concerns that an acquisition would destroy Actelion's research culture, was pivotal to J&J clinching the deal.

A J&J subsidiary initially will hold a 9.9% stake in the new company, with an option to increase this to 32% in the future.

Write to Denise Roland at Denise.Roland@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications A J&J subsidiary initially will hold a 9.9% stake in the new company, with an option to increase this to 32% in the future. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that J&J's initial stake would be 16%. (June 14)

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 15, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)