Janssen Head of Oncology Says Acquisition Could Help Prostate Cancer Patients

Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, has expanded its role in the battle against prostate cancer. Its Janssen Pharmaceuticals research and development unit has now acquired Aragon Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Peter Lebowitz, global head of oncology at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the acquisition could help improve treatment for cancer patients.

“The Aragon acquisition for us is very important because we have been working very hard for a number of years now to really advance therapeutics in prostate cancer,” Lebowitz said. “With the acquisition of Aragon, we have a potential best-in-class compound with ARN-509 that can really add to and compliment what’s going on in the treatment of prostate cancer patients.”

In the early development of the compounds, Lebowitz said doctors are often treating patients in the late stages of the disease. “In that case, we’re talking about keeping the disease in control. As we go on in development though, we’re very interested in combinations,” he said. “And as we do that and move the treatment into earlier disease settings, we may see even more dramatic effects and controlling the disease so it really doesn’t come back.”

Lebowitz said Aragon was a very innovative company and his group was most interested in the ARN-509 compound. “The drug was in Phase 2 clinical trials. We reviewed the data very closely. We really liked what we saw out of it,” he said. Janssen Pharmaceuticals was also interested in additional programs the company was involved in.

The prognosis for patients with new drugs depends on when treatment begins. “Generally what we see is that when you start treating the patients later in the disease course with these therapies, the effect that you get is somewhat smaller than when you start treating them earlier,” Lebowitz explained. “So we’ve started treating patients … in clinical trials in earlier settings. And we’re hoping to see much better results. But it really will depend on the setting of where the disease is as well as the drugs that we use.”

While Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ main focus is prostate cancer, there is also a big focus on hematologic malignancies — cancers that affect blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes — Lebowitz explained.

“The exciting news recently has been that we’ve submitted with our partner, Pharmacyclics, for the approval of the molecule ibrutinib. Ibrutinib is a drug that treats blood cancers. Blood cancers are generally leukemias and lymphomas. The exciting thing about ibrutinib, what I always say is that it’s one of those drugs that comes along where you think that it will change how we even think about the diseases that it treats. So we’re very excited for that,” Lebowitz said. “And we’re hoping for some rapid approvals for that drug.”