US-based Ichor Medical Systems has signed a product development collaboration and worldwide licence agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to develop and commercialise immunotherapies to treat chronic hepatitis B.

As part of the deal, which was facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the firms will work together to develop DNA-based vaccine products to treat chronic hepatitis B, using Ichor’s TriGrid electroporation technology for clinical administration.

Electroporation is a potent delivery method that uses brief electrical pulses to transiently alter cell membranes, allowing entry of DNA into cells.

Ichor Medical Systems founder and CEO Robert Bernard said: "Janssen’s decision to couple our clinically validated TriGrid electroporation technology with their DNA vaccine for HBV is extraordinarily exciting for Ichor.

"Our scientists and engineers look forward to this opportunity to collaborate with Janssen in the development of immunotherapies for patients suffering from chronic hepatitis B infection."

"Electroporation is a potent delivery method that uses brief electrical pulses to transiently alter cell membranes, allowing entry of DNA into cells."

Under the agreement, Ichor will secure an upfront payment, R&D support, as well as development and sales milestone payments up to a potential total of about $85m.

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The deal will also allow Ichor to receive royalty payments on any future licenced product sales.

Janssen will take the responsibility for certain development costs and all commercialisation costs related with the programme, including manufacturing and distribution expense for Ichor’s TriGrid Delivery System.

Currently, Ichor’s patented TriGrid delivery system is being examined in clinical trials in four continents. It is claimed to be the first integrated and fully automated device for electroporation-mediated DNA administration in humans.

According to Ichor, earlier clinical studies demonstrated that TriGrid significantly enhanced immune responses to the delivered vaccines compared against conventional injection.

Image: High-magnification micrograph of ground glass hepatocytes, as seen in a chronic hepatitis B infection with a high viral load. Photo: courtesy of Nephron.