Giving it a GO: Giant Roche selects a tiny player at LabCentral for its next cancer R&D partner

Roche has just inked its latest deal in the oncology field. And while the terms may be modest by today’s industry standards, it’s still a major league endorsement for the tiny biotech which scored the connection.

Constantine Theodoropulos

Little GO Therapeutics, which has a staff of 5 working in shared lab space at LabCentral in Cambridge, MA, is getting $9 million upfront for the pact, which spotlights their work on O-linked glycosylation. There’s another $186 million in milestones, completing a package that has been in the works for some time, as GO worked with Roche’s pRED group based in Basel.

As a target, the crew at GO believes they’ve found a unique way to specifically go after cancer cells without touching the healthy cells.

CEO Constantine Theodoropulos believes they’re about the only player in this specific field, with a glycoprotein targeting platform that centers on the role of aberrant O-linked glycans in cancer. 

“There are not many commercially-oriented companies that are in this field,” says Theodoropulos, “though there is a fair amount of academic work.”

That may change as GO starts to talk more about its work with Roche, a big player in oncology — though mostly through its gRED group at Genentech.

If it works, they could open up a path to new and better immunotherapies, with CAR-T joining a group of drug types that includes antibody-drug conjugates as well as T-cell bispecifics and more.

Hans Wandall

Theodoropulos — a business development consultant who’s worked for years helping EBD set up its global biotech conferences — started GO based on the work of two key scientific founders from the University of Copenhagen: Hans Wandall, the co-director of the center for glycobiology at the university, and glycobiology expert Henrik Clausen.

Henrik Clausen

There were three key components to getting through early preclinical work. First, they had to ID where the glycosylation sites are on proteins. Second, could they develop an antibody for it — one that recognized both the sugar and the underlying protein — and then could you screen the antibodies to find the one that “truly recognizes this glycosylation motif.”

That approach, says the CEO, could have a big impact on cancer. And Roche wants to be along for the ride during the next stretch.

The money from Roche comes on top of a small, $5 million round from a Chinese investor. 

That doesn’t leave a lot of money for splurging, but Theodoropulos says they’ll add a couple more key team players to the small group at LabCentral.

“We’re OK now for a little while,” says Theodoropulos, who helped seed the venture initially. A Series B could come together toward the end of next year, “assuming we’re successful with our follow-on to really drive to the clinic.”

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