Asian in­vestor com­mits $15M to launch new pro­tein degra­da­tion biotech start­up Cull­gen out of UNC

A Japan-based in­vestor with close ties to Chi­nese re­search cir­cles is back­ing a new biotech up­start in the US with its own take on the hot field of pro­tein degra­da­tion.

Yue Xiong

Tokyo-based GNI Group is pro­vid­ing up to $15 mil­lion to seed the work at a new­co called Cull­gen, the brain­child of UNC in­ves­ti­ga­tor Yue Xiong. While still very much a fledg­ling, the com­pa­ny’s launch plans call for re­search to be un­der­tak­en in the US, Japan as well as Chi­na.

Like oth­ers in the field, they’ll be fo­cused on ubiq­ui­tin-me­di­at­ed pro­tein degra­da­tion tech­nol­o­gy. Xiong has been work­ing on de­vel­op­ing new drugs found through his in­ves­ti­ga­tion of en­zymes present in the cullin-RING fam­i­ly of E3 ubiq­ui­tin lig­as­es. And the com­pa­ny will set off with some tar­gets in on­col­o­gy and then spread out to in­flam­ma­tion and au­toim­mune dis­ease.

It’s a thriv­ing field.

Genen­tech and Pfiz­er inked re­cent deals with Arv­inas, which is build­ing on the lab work of Yale’s Craig Crews on pro­tein degra­da­tion. At­las backed Kymera’s launch last fall. And NI­BR chief and pro­tein degra­da­tion ex­pert Jay Brad­ner, who ear­li­er found­ed C4 to delve in­to this, forged an al­liance with UC Berke­ley that will dive deep in­to pro­tein degra­da­tion.

Ying Luo

Cull­gen rep­re­sents the ar­rival of new Asian in­vestors in the US, the glob­al R&D struc­ture that’s be­ing de­vel­oped to sup­port star­tups as well as the over­all fund­ing fren­zy that has fo­cused close­ly on can­cer R&D over the past two years.

So what will Cull­gen go af­ter? Xiong’s home page on the UNC web­site in­cludes this seg­ment on pro­tein degra­da­tion:

Most, if not all, cel­lu­lar process­es, in­clud­ing no­tably cell cy­cle con­trol and p53 con­trol, are reg­u­lat­ed by ubiq­ui­tin-me­di­at­ed mod­i­fi­ca­tion and degra­da­tion. The mech­a­nisms tar­get­ing spe­cif­ic pro­teins for ubiq­ui­ty­la­tion, in most cas­es, are poor­ly un­der­stood. We dis­cov­ered two nov­el RING fin­ger pro­teins, ROC1 and ROC2, which con­sti­tute ac­tive ubiq­ui­tin lig­as­es with mem­bers of the cullin fam­i­ly. We al­so dis­cov­ered that Cullins 3 and 4 could as­sem­ble in vi­vo as many as 200 and 100 dis­tinct E3 ubiq­ui­tin lig­as­es, re­spec­tive­ly. Our cur­rent re­search in this area is fo­cused on two is­sues. (1) De­vel­op­ing a strat­e­gy to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fy the sub­strates of the cullin-RING E3 lig­as­es, and (2) Elu­ci­dat­ing the mech­a­nism of CUL4 E3 lig­as­es in con­trol of gene ex­pres­sion and chro­matin struc­ture.

Lisa Carey, Stephen Frye and Pe­ter Jack­son are join­ing the SAB while Ying Luo, the CEO of GNIG, Yue Xiong, Jian Jin, and GNIG CFO Thomas East­ling will sit on the board.

Gilead baits new al­liance with $45M up­front, div­ing in­to the busy pro­tein degra­da­tion field

Gilead is jump­ing on board the pro­tein degra­da­tion band­wag­on. And they’re turn­ing to a low-pro­file Third Rock start­up for the ex­per­tise. But if you were look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion­al deal to kick up fresh en­thu­si­asm for Gilead, you’ll have to re­main pa­tient.


This one will have a long way to go be­fore they get in­to the clin­ic.

The big biotech said Wednes­day morn­ing that it is pay­ing $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing a whop­ping $2.3 bil­lion in biotech bucks if San Fran­cis­co-based Nurix can point the way to new can­cer ther­a­pies, as well as drugs for oth­er, un­spec­i­fied dis­eases.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

Dave Barrett, Brian Chee, Amir Nashat, Amy Schulman. Polaris

Bob Langer's first port of call — Po­laris Part­ners — maps $400M for ninth fund

Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

Right back at you, Pfiz­er: BeiGene and a Pfiz­er spin­out launch a new­co to de­vel­op a MEK/BRAF in­hibitor that could ri­val $11.4B com­bo

A day af­ter Pfiz­er bought Ar­ray and its ap­proved can­cer com­bo, BeiGene and Pfiz­er spin­out Spring­Works have part­nered in launch­ing a new biotech that has an eye on the very same mar­ket the phar­ma gi­ant just paid bil­lions for. And they’re plan­ning on us­ing an ex-Pfiz­er drug to do it.

In a nut­shell, Chi­na’s BeiGene is toss­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal BRAF in­hibitor — BGB-3245, which cov­ers both V600 and non-V600 BRAF mu­ta­tions — for a big stake in a new, joint­ly con­trolled biotech called Map­Kure with Bain-backed Spring­Works.

Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.