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.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Michael Gladstone, partner at Atlas Venture

At­las rais­es new $400M fund amid spree of VC rais­es. Here’s what they’ll spend it on

You can add another few hundred million to the now Montana-sized reservoir of cash biotech VCs have raised since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

Atlas Venture, the prominent Kendall Square incubator, has raised $400 million for its twelfth biotech fund, their first in 3 years. After a string of mammoth new raises from other major VCs in April and May, the total pot now stands between $5 billion and $6 billion, depending on how you slice it.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.