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

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

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.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Image: Chris Varma. Frontier

UP­DAT­ED: Chris Var­ma un­veils MP­M's lat­est start­up — eye­ing 'un­drug­gable' can­cer tar­gets and pow­ered by ma­chine learn­ing, $67M

Two years af­ter MPM Cap­i­tal en­list­ed Chris Var­ma on its busy on­col­o­gy team, the for­mer en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence is un­veil­ing his first ven­ture project out of his new stomp­ing grounds in the Bay Area: Fron­tier Med­i­cines.

For Var­ma, who’s al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines and built com­pa­nies at Third Rock and Flag­ship, this marks an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to ap­ply some cut­ting-edge sci­ence to “sev­er­al of the most im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult tar­gets in can­cer” — tar­gets that oth­ers have tried to tack­le with more clas­si­cal meth­ods and failed. The launch round comes in at $67 mil­lion, which should go some way in scaf­fold­ing a pre­clin­i­cal pipeline and push one or more as­sets in­to the clin­ic three years from now, he tells me.

Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.

No­var­tis holds back the copy­cat brigade's at­tack on its top drug fran­chise — for now

A fed­er­al judge has put a gener­ic chal­lenge to No­var­tis’ block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Gilenya on hold while a patent fight plays out in court.

Judge Leonard P. Stark is­sued a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion ear­li­er this week, forc­ing My­lan, Dr. Red­dy’s Lab­o­ra­to­ries and Au­robindo Phar­ma to shelve their launch plans to al­low the patent fight to pro­ceed. He ruled that al­low­ing the gener­ics in­to the mar­ket now would per­ma­nent­ly slash the price for No­var­tis, even if it pre­vails. 

Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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