Johnson & Johnson partners with Cambridge biotech Scholar Rock

Robert Urban heads the Johnson & Johnson Boston Innovation Center, which will work with Cambridge biotech startup Scholar Rock on new therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Robert Urban heads the Johnson & Johnson Boston Innovation Center, which will work with Cambridge biotech startup Scholar Rock on new therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The Johnson & Johnson Boston Innovation Center said Wednesday it will partner with Cambridge biotechnology startup Scholar Rock to develop new treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The research and licensing arrangement is the latest in a series of collaborative deals struck between Johnson & Johnson and local biotech companies since the health care giant opened an outpost in Cambridge over the summer. It also might help the local office win the company’s coveted Mankini trophy this quarter.

J&J has built a small network of innovation centers in life sciences hubs — the others are in Menlo Park, Calif., London and Shanghai — with the goal of connecting with top researchers and entrepreneurs outside the company. Johnson & Johnson was slower than some of its rivals to set up shop in the Boston area, but the new center in Kendall Square has helped make up for lost time. Other recent partners include biotech startups Rodin Therapeutics, which is developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and Vedanta Biosciences, which is working on a drug to combat inflammatory bowel disease.

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Scholar Rock’s focus is on regulating proteins that stimulate growth of diseased cells. Existing drugs shut down these proteins completely, a strategy that helps combat disease but also can cause harmful side effects by halting normal cell functions that depend on the same proteins. Scholar Rock aims to develop targeted therapies that stop only the damage caused by the proteins.

Under the agreement with Scholar Rock, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary called Janssen Biotech will have the exclusive option to license and sell therapies that may result from the companies’ joint efforts. Scholar Rock will enjoy the resources of a much larger company and is eligible to receive payments as future drugs hit clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones.

“This collaboration exploits new understanding of growth factor biology in the microenvironment in order to create novel therapeutics with the potential to maximize action at the site of disease, and offer a new approach for debilitating diseases with limited treatment options,” said Scholar Rock cofounder Timothy A. Springer.