Atlas-incubated Kymera leaps out of stealth mode, joins the hunt for game-changing protein degradation drugs
Protein degradation R&D isn’t new. Jay Bradner launched C4 Therapeutics to blaze the protein degradation approach just before he took the helm at the Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research, then recently formed a discovery alliance with UC Berkeley with the same basic approach in mind. Arvinas also has centered on protein degradation, building on the lab work of Yale’s Craig Crews.
But today there’s another startup joining the pioneers called Kymera, and the Cambridge, MA-based player is coming out of stealth mode today with a $30 million launch round and a development strategy created on the notion that there’s plenty of virgin territory for everyone to explore.
Nello Mainolfi, a Novartis vet, Kymera co-founder and chief technology officer, says it started back when he was sitting in Bruce Booth’s Atlas Venture office in late 2015 discussing the best way to jump into the protein degradation field — looking for ways to derisk target selection and go after some breakthrough therapies with game-changing potential.
That conversation would lead to some interchanges with some of the academics at work in the field — we’ll hear more about who that is at a later point — while they built a toolbox that could be used to efficiently degrade specific proteins of interest.
The concept behind these programs sounds simple enough. Where protein inhibition has created some advanced meds — specifically for diseases like prostate and breast cancer — degrading them could prove to be a much more durable solution. Hijacking the body’s ubiquitin-proteasome system that’s used to dispose of proteins, binding to proteins and marking them for destruction, they’re building a platform that can be used to stymie any disease-causing protein. But Booth notes that jumping from inhibition to degradation requires adding a third part to the equation, a math problem related to an enduring catalytic destruction of the target.
And that’s really not simple at all. Booth wrote a blog about this, which explains the whole process in clear terms.
Over the past 18 months, the team at Kymera has grown to 12, and they’ve been using the seed cash to start the preclinical work needed to identify the first program to take into the clinic.
Laurent Audoly, another Big Pharma veteran who jumped from his job as R&D chief at Pierre Fabry to take the CEO’s post, says it’s still too early to say exactly what disease targets they’re going after, but all three of the principals are happy to identify the toll-like receptor and interleukin-1 pathway as their initial focus. And the new CEO plans to double the size of the staff over the course of the next year.
The goal, says Audoly, is to “mine a pathway in a very systematic manner.”
Kymera has all the classic earmarks of a Bruce Booth special. He brought in two corporate venture funds — Amgen and Lilly Ventures — to fund the A round after some efficient incubation work. Lab space was provided by LabCentral, which came with a “Golden Ticket” from J&J/JLABS. And like many Atlas startups, Booth and his colleagues will have already begun the work of lining up some marquee partners to do the work with — standard operating procedure for platform companies with a lot of potential drug targets to work with.