Cel­gene hands over $101M in cash to launch a re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion with pro­tein play­er Vi­vid­ion

Diego Mi­ralles

A year af­ter Vi­vid­ion Ther­a­peu­tics de­buted with a $50 mil­lion launch round and a plat­form tech cen­tered on drug­ging a whole slate of un­drug­gable pro­teins, the San Diego-based biotech has picked up its first big bio­phar­ma col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cel­gene.

Cel­gene is pay­ing a hefty $101 mil­lion up­front in a fee plus eq­ui­ty deal to see how Vi­vid­ion’s R&D en­gine can work for them in on­col­o­gy, in­flam­ma­tion and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion — a nascent field for them.

Cel­gene has been knocked around re­peat­ed­ly in re­cent months, watch­ing mon­gersen go down in flames, ex­as­per­at­ing an­a­lysts with weak num­bers and then be­ing em­bar­rassed by an FDA refuse-to-file for its all-im­por­tant ozan­i­mod ap­pli­ca­tion. But the com­pa­ny, which just paid $9 bil­lion to buy Juno, still has one of the busiest BD teams scour­ing the biotech field for new deals. And once again, they’re not afraid to pay an un­usu­al­ly large amount of cash to get a dis­cov­ery deal start­ed with a com­pa­ny that is not yet in the clin­ic.

Why is that?

“We can drug the en­tire pro­teome in its na­tive state,” Vi­vid­ion CEO Diego Mi­ralles tells me, “and that is the trans­for­ma­tion­al po­ten­tial of Vi­vid­ion.”

The plat­form tech­nol­o­gy, he adds, of­fers a view of the “re­al life of a cell that gives you a very dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed and unique in­sight in­to how those pro­teins are be­hav­ing and how they are vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing drugged.”

One as­pect of that are in­sights in­to “pro­tein degra­da­tion around pro­teins that to­day are un­touch­able.”

Mi­ralles — a J&J vet who es­tab­lished the John­son & John­son In­no­va­tion Cen­ters and JLABS — joined the com­pa­ny last fall in a process that saw Cel­gene vet Tom Daniel trade the hands-on ex­ec­u­tive chair­man’s role for the chair­man’s ti­tle. And se­r­i­al biotech en­tre­pre­neur Rich Hey­man, who knows a thing or two about pro­tein degra­da­tion, stepped in to sit on the board.

Ben Cra­vatt

Mi­ralles cred­its sci­en­tif­ic founder Ben Cra­vatt — based in Scripps — with the ear­ly talks that ini­tial­ly at­tract­ed Cel­gene’s at­ten­tion. At Cra­vatt’s Scripps lab re­searchers used frag­ment lig­ands at­tached to a class of chap­er­one mol­e­cules that re­acts with cys­teine amino-acids on pro­teins, lock­ing the lig­ands to the pro­teins with co­va­lent bonds.

Not so un­usu­al­ly there are things that Mi­ralles ei­ther can’t or won’t say about the deal and their own re­search plans.

The split be­tween an up­front fee and eq­ui­ty in the Cel­gene deal? Can’t say.

What kind of tar­gets are they go­ing af­ter here? Can’t say.

Time­line for get­ting pro­grams in­to the clin­ic? Won’t say.

On the oth­er hand the com­pa­ny now has a grow­ing staff of 45 and an in­ter­est in pur­su­ing part­ner­ships like this to lever­age its reach.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

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Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
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