Collaborations, Deals

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.

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