Af­ter pi­lot project, Take­da inks $500M pact to tap in­to a Ke­van Shokat pro­tégé's co­va­lent small mol­e­cule fish­ing plat­form

As new tech­nolo­gies open up new av­enues to­ward tar­gets wide­ly con­sid­ered un­drug­gable by small mol­e­cules, Take­da is tak­ing a chance on a low-pro­file drug dis­cov­ery play­er with promis­es of up to $500 mil­lion in biobucks.

Ping Cao

Over the next two years, Sun­ny­vale, CA-based Brid­Gene will de­ploy its chem­i­cal pro­teomics-based plat­form for five pro­grams against tar­gets of in­ter­est, start­ing with one im­pli­cat­ed in neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

It all start­ed, ac­cord­ing to Brid­Gene CEO Ping Cao, with an in-per­son meet­ing at JP Mor­gan last Jan­u­ary.

“If you talk to a chemist or sci­en­tist in a large firm, they al­ways say we are tar­get hun­gry,” he said.

Cao, who spent enough years at Am­gen’s San Fran­cis­co site to be ap­proach­ing lif­er sta­tus, knew the is­sue well. With the low-hang­ing fruit al­ready picked, re­main­ing dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins of­ten have pock­ets that are ei­ther too shal­low (think KRAS) or tran­sient, pre­sent­ing them­selves on­ly in live cells (think tran­scrip­tion fac­tor).

Take­da was no dif­fer­ent. The phar­ma gi­ant has a large phe­no­typ­ic screen­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Japan where sci­en­tists iden­ti­fy phe­no­typ­ic changes caused by mol­e­cules in their li­brary, but there’s a ma­jor hur­dle in fig­ur­ing out what ex­act­ly caused the change. Once Cao pre­sent­ed their tech­nol­o­gy, it took lit­tle time to kick­start a pi­lot project in which Take­da hand­ed over some of their clin­i­cal can­di­dates for Brid­Gene to pro­file.

“We use co­va­lent small mol­e­cules as a bait,” he said. “So we fish in­side live cells. So live cells are like an ocean; each pro­tein is just like a fish there. Dif­fer­ent small mol­e­cules, they will fish out dif­fer­ent tar­gets or dif­fer­ent pro­teins.”

Chao Zhang

The core tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise came from sci­en­tif­ic founder Chao Zhang’s lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Hav­ing trained with Ke­van Shokat, the in­ven­tor of one of the ear­li­est KRAS G12C in­hibitors, Zhang came up with his own method of min­ing co­va­lent ki­nase in­hibitors, col­lab­o­rat­ing with Prin­cip­ia co-founder Jack Taunton along the way. That com­pa­ny, which boasts of BTK in­hibitors, sold to Sanofi for $3.7 bil­lion. Shokat, mean­while, is on the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board.

From March to Sep­tem­ber, Brid­Gene’s team of 10 put sev­er­al Take­da can­cer drugs through its plat­form and came up with a re­port de­tail­ing how many pro­teins bound to those small mol­e­cules — some pre­vi­ous­ly un­known to the phar­ma part­ner.

“Take­da was re­al­ly hap­py with the re­sults be­cause this re­port helped them to — they can de­cide if they want to pur­sue oth­er in­di­ca­tions that cov­er oth­er tar­gets they didn’t know be­fore,” he said. “It al­so gave them (a) broad full view of the po­ten­tial tox­i­c­i­ty con­cerns down the road.”

It paved the way for the cur­rent col­lab­o­ra­tion, Cao said, which takes the same tech­nol­o­gy in a slight­ly dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. The biotech will be tasked with iden­ti­fy­ing new tar­gets that are re­spon­si­ble for a spe­cif­ic dis­ease phe­no­type that Take­da pin­points as un­der­ly­ing a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion, or oth­er ail­ments in the fu­ture phas­es of the pact.

The undis­closed up­front cash, added to a pre-A round they’ve raised, would help fund Brid­Gene’s in­ter­nal pipeline of on­col­o­gy pro­grams, Cao added.

For Take­da, the al­liance marks the lat­est in a dis­cov­ery deal spree cov­er­ing every­thing from RNA-bind­ing small mol­e­cules and ri­bo­some drug test­ing ma­chines to CRISPR-screened cell ther­a­pies and LNP gene de­liv­ery.

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

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Martin Shkreli (Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch/IPX)

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Shkreli’s attorney put out a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the “pharma bro” had been transferred to a halfway house in New York with a few more months to go under federal custody, slated to end September 14. Attorney Benjamin Brafman acknowledged the release and vowed that he and Shkreli are keeping quiet.

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Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Energy and Commerce Committee chair (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP Images)

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The story of Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cell line and her family’s fight for justice caught the attention of national media outlets and Hollywood years ago. Now, the case faces an uncertain fate as a Baltimore federal judge considers tossing the case.

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