Pharma, R&D

J&J steps up alongside AbbVie to partner with fast-growing Morphic on its small molecule approach to integrins

The last six months have marked an important turning point for Morphic, a startup biotech working with new technology out of the lab of Harvard’s Tim Springer.

Tim Springer

An $80 million B round in the fall of 2018 topped up the cash reserves, with a $100 million upfront from AbbVie coming weeks later, offering some big pharma validation and a better runway on the financials. And this morning another piece of the startup puzzle fell into place as J&J stepped in with an early discovery deal and collaborative plans as Morphic mapped out the full range of its exploration plan.

Morphic CEO Praveen Tipirneni has to handle this in reverse order from the AbbVie deal. With AbbVie, he got the chance to headline the upfront money but had to keep the milestones under wraps. With J&J, it’s the upfront that stays under cover, the development and commercial milestones add up to $725 million-plus.

“It’s a very big deal, but it’s a much earlier stage deal,” says the CEO. (Translation: AbbVie paid more upfront to get at a late-stage preclinical development program. J&J back ended much more of their deal, which is SOP in biotech for a discovery deal.)

Tipirneni, though, is just as happy about this new alliance, as it brings them into close partnership with a J&J team, which will work alongside them in going after some targets in mind — also not disclosed.

The way the CEO describes it, the deal fills in some of the missing pieces for their work on integrins, receptors that break down into 4 basic subtypes which play a variety of roles, including wreaking havoc. A variety of integrin inhibitors are out on the market, like Tysabri and Xiidra. But Morphic’s platform tech out of Harvard focuses on building small molecule blockers to prevent that damage. 

Morphic isn’t the only company working on integrins. But they’d like to be recognized for being the leader in the small molecule field. 

Morphic’s staff has swelled to 50 in recent months, and now Tipirneni plans to ramp that up to 80 by the end of this year. But don’t look for a lot of deal news for awhile. The plan is to tap the brakes on deals, get their alliances up and running and focus on the internal pipeline as well.

There’s lots of work ahead.

Image: Praveen Tipirneni. MORPHIC

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