As the annual JP Morgan Healthcare conference kicked off in San Francisco Monday morning, three Big Pharma pharma players — Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Novartis — all announced major acquisitions.

Below is a breakdown of the trio of biotech buyouts:

J&J is putting down $2 billion to eat up more of the increasingly attractive antibody drug conjugate (ADC) space, acquiring Ambrx Biopharma and its proprietary synthetic biology technology platform.

With that acquisition, several ADC targeting drugs — including Ambrx’s metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer treatment ARX517 — are coming under the J&J fold. The pharma giant will also pick up ARX788, a therapy for metastatic HER2+ breast cancer, as well as ARX305 for treating renal cell carcinoma.

In a statement, Yusri Elsayed, global therapeutic area head, oncology at J&J Innovative Medicine, noted that ARX517 has thus far shown promising results that represent a potential first- and best-in-class targeted therapy for the treatment of this aggressive disease.

“Ambrx’s pipeline and ADC platform present exciting future opportunities to deliver enhanced, precision biologics as we look to transform the treatment of cancer and improve patients’ lives,” Elsayed added.

Meanwhile, Merck’s acquisition of Harpoon Therapeutics, also announced Monday morning, is the second largest of the trio – worth up to $680 million. 

The deal expands Merck’s immunotherapy business and gives the company access to Harpoon’s novel T-cell engager portfolio, including its lead candidate HPN328, which targets delta-like ligand 3 in small cell lung cancer and neuroendocrine tumors.

Harpoon’s other candidates include HPN217, which is currently in a Phase 1 trial for patients with relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma, as well as a few preclinical candidates — including HPN601 for the treatment of epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) expressing tumors.

Dean Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, noted in a statement that the acquisition reflects the creativity and commitment of the scientific and clinical development teams at Harpoon. 

He added that the move will “enhance” the company’s oncology pipeline and that it plans to advance HPN328 and examine its potential in combinations.

Finally, Novartis unveiled its acquisition of Calypso Biotech, with an upfront payment of $250 million and potential milestones worth up to $175 million.

The deal will give Novartis full rights to CALY-002, Calypso’s lead candidate, which Novartis dubs a “pipeline-in-a-drug.” CALY-002, a therapeutic antibody that neutralizes a protein called Interleukin-15, is currently being investigated in a Phase 1b trial for the treatment of celiac disease and eosinophilic esophagitis – but may hold potential in other autoimmune indications.

“As part of the Novartis portfolio, CALY-002 is the best position to be developed effectively, so that it can promptly address unmet medical needs in multiple indications,” said Calypso CEO Alain Vicari in a statement.

The moves follow a busy few months for both Merck and Novartis. Merck acquired Caraway Therapeutics for up to $610 million in November 2023. It also picked up three clinical ADCs from Daiichi Sankyo earlier in the fall for $5.5 billion upfront and $16.5 billion in potential milestones.

At the start of the year, Novartis signed a gene therapy deal with Voyager for up to $1.3 billion total, giving it access to Voyager’s TRACER capsids for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

For a January 2024 article on day 1 of JPM, click here.