Rockville-based BeneVir Biopharm Inc., a biotech specializing in immunotherapy treatments for cancer, has reached a deal to sell to pharmaceutical goliath Janssen Biotech Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, in a deal worth up to $1.04 billion.
Janssen, based in Titusville, New Jersey, will pay BeneVir $140 million in cash upon closing of the transaction, expected in the second quarter of this year, according to a company announcement. Additional contingent payments based on the achievement of certain milestones, including certain drug approvals and future sales, could total up to $900 million.
BeneVir’s majority owner, New York City-based holding company HC2 Holdings Inc. (NYSE: HCHC), first invested in the local company in 2014 and has since reached roughly 76 percent equity ownership. BeneVir, founded in 2011, is part of HC2 subsidiary Pansend Life Sciences LLC's portfolio.
BeneVir plans to grow its research presence and add jobs in Rockville, according to an announcement from BioHealth Innovation, which works to support the county’s biotech and health care community with resources to scale. The local company did not return a call for comment.
The local biotech said it will continue to focus on its oncolytic immunotherapy platform for cancer patients whose tumors don’t respond to existing therapies — all at a time when oncolytic immunotherapy is drawing serious interest from pharmaceutical acquirers. Its T-Stealth technology is a virus that infects and kills cancer cells — different from other oncolytic viruses, the company claims, because it can evade the immune system, allowing it to replicate and kill more cancer cells. BeneVir, which raised $2 million late last year, holds an exclusive worldwide license to develop the T-Stealth technology with a focus on the treatment of solid cancer tumors.
The biotech’s executives include founders Ian Mohr and Matthew Mulvey, now CEO, as well as directors Cherine Plumaker, Pansend’s founder and managing director, and David Present, Pansend’s president and senior managing director.
BeneVir is among the I-270 biotech companies moving toward commercialization in cancer immunotherapy, along with Gaithersburg-based MedImmune and Rockville-based MacroGenics Inc. (NASDAQ: MGNX)
The deal follows other movement in the local health and biotech arena this year, including the sale of Reston-based telemedicine firm Avizia to a Boston-based company and, on the acquisition side, United Therapeutics Corp.’s (NASDAQ: UTHR) purchase of a rival drugmaker. It all comes during what experts have called an exciting time in the industry here, as venture capital investment experiences an upward trend they expect to continue.