You can count Tom Daniel as the latest big biopharma exec to make the transition to biotech.
The Celgene veteran has taken on the executive chairman’s position at a startup called Vividion Therapeutics, which has collected $50 million in a round led by Arch and Versant. And he is taking a leading role in creating a new company that has fashioned a brand new platform technology out of the lab of Scripps researcher Ben Cravatt.
After he left Celgene as president of research and early development last summer, Daniel headed west to San Diego. And Daniel, who has a global roster of connections second to none after that experience, was eager to follow up on some longterm discussions he’d been having with Cravatt, who had collaborated with Celgene at another one of his startups called Abide Therapeutics.
“We literally talked about this two years ago,” Daniel tells me. And there was a lot to catch up on.
The big picture at Vividion involves going after a whole new sphere of drug R&D, pursuing a new class of ligandable proteins and opening up a frontier of drug targets.
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. Some of the protein classes they explored included previously undruggable transcription factors, opening up their view of the ligandable proteome. And they’ve tried it successfully with hundreds of proteins.
Since their study was published by Nature last summer, says Daniel, the new company has been taking added shape, moving beyond cysteines to lysines and other projects. In broad terms, Daniel is focused on rare genetic diseases, immuno/oncology, inflammation and oncology, “to name a few.” And Scripps’ Phil S. Baran and Jin-Quan Yu have added crucial pieces of their platform tech.
Daniel knows the playbook on startups as well as anyone in the business. So it will come as no surprise to hear that he’s already started a few conversations with some potential partners who could see the value of using Vividion’s platform to solve an R&D challenge. He plans to strike up a couple of partnerships to help build the company, which will start out with a core team of some 25 to 30 staffers.
It’s still early days at the fledgling company, which only recently went into double digits on its employee roster. Like a lot of start-ups, Daniel isn’t ready to discuss specific drug targets. Like a lot of startups, he isn’t ready to review R&D timelines. But he has a longtime relationship with Agios CEO David Schenkein – one of a multitude of Celgene partners – and an interest in seeing if he can match Schenkein’s quick ramp up.
To put that in some perspective, Schenkein is fond of telling people how he started with a blank sheet of paper at Agios and in 7 years created a platform and brought 5 drugs into the clinic. Their lead drug was partnered with Celgene, by Daniel.
“If the dream we believe can be true is rendered we’ll go fast,” he says.
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