By Vidya L Nathan
(Reuters) - Geron Corp licensed its cancer compound, the last in its pipeline, to a unit of Johnson & Johnson for up to $935 million, sending its shares up as much as 33 percent in extended trading.
The license deal comes as a welcome break to the company, which has seen its stock price drop from a high of $71.69 in 2000 to $2.31 on Thursday.
The drug developer will receive $35 million in upfront payment and the rest in milestone payments.
Under the deal, J&J's unit Janssen Biotech Inc, will be responsible for the development, regulatory approval and sales of the cancer compound, imetelstat, worldwide. Geron will receive royalties on net sales.
If successful, imetelstat would compete with Incyte Corp's myelofibrosis drug, Jakafi, which generated sales of $235.4 million last year.
Some analysts have indicated that imetelstat's ability to evoke a disease-modifying effect - defined as partial or complete remission - suggests it would be superior to Jakafi.
Geron did not disclose plans for its pipeline. The company could not be reached immediately for additional comments.
The deal includes a clause for Janssen to terminate the agreement at any time due to a safety-related concern, according to a filing. (http://1.usa.gov/1zRPRsJ)
The Menlo Park, California-based company came under pressure in March after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration placed a hold on Geron's studies of the drug in blood cancers, citing possible liver damage.
Once heralded as a pioneer in stem-cell technology, Geron focused its research and development on imetelstat in blood cancers from December 2012 when it stopped development of its brain cancer drug and cut about 40 percent of its workforce.
The company had to abandon its research in human embryonic stem cells in November 2011 when political and general sentiment were against such testing, a move that left the company with two cancer compounds and a portfolio of stem cell therapies.
In October last year, the company completed the sale of its stem cell assets to BioTime.
Geron's shares have fallen 67 percent since it sold its stem cell assets.