Biotech vet Troy Wilson shines a spotlight on his oligonucleotide startup as Eli Lilly signs up for a premier Big Pharma partnership
Troy Wilson is best known now for his role leading Kura Oncology, where the team has been developing targeted cancer drugs. Not so well known is Avidity Biosciences, which he and Kent Hawryluk founded in La Jolla about 6 years ago, using an antibody conjugated with oligonucleotides and siRNA payloads to hit specific targets of their own.
But today they’d like to shed some of that low profile with a premier discovery partnership with Eli Lilly that will bring a much brighter spotlight to the work they’re doing.
Lilly is fronting their new alliance with $35 million in cash — $20 million upfront and $15 million for equity — along with a bounty of potential biobucks on the table for milestones that reach up to $405 million per target. The company has raised a total of $70 million in cash for its work, where Ionis vet Arthur Levin has been focused on targeting RNA involved in disease pathways.
“After we sold Intellikine (to Takeda) in 2011, I had the opportunity and the mission to take on some hard problems,” Wilson tells me. The Avidity project caught his eye as the field began to reach maturity delivering oligonucleotides to the liver. Other tissues were totally untapped, though, leaving the founders the chance to blaze new trails, including one into muscle tissue, where it’s now engaged on its own tackling myotonic dystrophy.
“It’s a much harder problem to solve than it looks,” the CEO adds, though they do have primate data offering a glimpse at the potential. But the team isn’t taking the wraps off all the technology they’ve been working on. Some of it they want to remain secret sauce — at least for a little while longer.
Takeda led the $16 million B round at the beginning of 2017, joining a syndicate that included Alethea Capital, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Brace Pharma, EcoR1 Capital, F-Prime Capital, Moore Venture Partners and Tavistock Life Sciences. With this new money comes the chance to beef up the Avidity team — now at about 30 staffers — as Wilson stays focused primarily on Kura.
“I’m in the executive chairman’s role, transitioning to the chairman role,” says Wilson about his role at Avidity. “With this deal, we’ll be looking to bring on additional leadership.”