Nello Mainolfi (Kymera via YouTube)

Out to re­vive R&D, a resur­gent Sanofi pays $150M cash to part­ner up with a pi­o­neer­ing pro­tein degra­da­tion play­er

Frank Nes­tle was ap­point­ed Sanofi’s glob­al head of im­munol­o­gy and in­flam­ma­tion re­search ther­a­peu­tic area just days be­fore dupilum­ab, the block­buster-to-be IL-4 an­ti­body, would be ac­cept­ed for pri­or­i­ty re­view. Af­ter four years of con­sol­i­dat­ing im­munol­o­gy ex­per­tise from mul­ti­ple cor­ners of the Sanofi fam­i­ly and re­cruit­ing new tal­ents to build the dis­cov­ery en­gine, he’s set eyes on a Phase I-ready pro­gram that he be­lieves can grow in­to a Dupix­ent-sized fran­chise.

Frank Nes­tle

And — with the bless­ing of CEO Paul Hud­son and R&D chief John Reed — he’s reach­ing deep in­to the purse.

IRAK4 is the head­lin­er for the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the pro­tein degra­da­tion spe­cial­ists at Kymera, which is bag­ging $150 mil­lion cash and $2 bil­lion in po­ten­tial mile­stones. The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech is tasked with com­plet­ing first-in-hu­man stud­ies and re­tains the op­tion to share US de­vel­op­ment costs and rev­enue fol­low­ing the Sanofi-led Phase II.

The tar­get sits down­stream of “one of the most val­i­dat­ed path­ways in in­nate im­mu­ni­ty,” Kymera CEO Nel­lo Main­olfi said: It’s where the IL-1 cy­tokine fam­i­ly (think IL-1, IL-33, IL-36) and toll-like re­cep­tor sig­nal­ing con­verges. While ki­nase in­hibitors can take out the ki­nase func­tion, it al­so has a scaf­fold­ing func­tion which con­tin­ues to en­able sig­nal­ing.

“In or­der to ful­ly block the sig­nal­ing, you need to re­move IRAK4,” he said.

Lever­ag­ing E3 lig­as­es to tag the tar­get pro­tein for dis­pos­al, Kymera’s de­grad­er promis­es to pack the bi­o­log­i­cal ef­fect of block­ing all cy­tokine sig­nal­ing with a sin­gle oral pill.

Be­cause it sits at a crit­i­cal node, IRAK4 has been on Sanofi’s radar screen, Nes­tle said. They are al­so well aware of the in­ad­e­qua­cies of a small mol­e­cule ap­proach — such as the one tak­en by Pfiz­er.

“At the mo­ment a lot of pro­tein degra­da­tion is in can­cer, and there’s noth­ing yet in the chron­ic in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­ease space,” he said. “As far as I’m aware, there’s no oth­er com­pa­ny out there who we could have part­nered with to ex­act­ly get to that point.”

While the po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tions are broad, der­ma­tol­ogy looms large among the ini­tial plans. There’s atopic der­mati­tis, the itchy skin con­di­tion that ac­counts for a large por­tion of Dupix­ent’s $2.32 bil­lion an­nu­al sales. Nes­tle is al­so keen on hidradeni­tis sup­pu­ra­ti­va, which can cause long-term ab­scess­es and scar­ring.

Sanofi first added pro­tein degra­da­tion to its R&D play­book in Jan­u­ary, anti­ng up $55 mil­lion up­front to ac­cess Nurix Ther­a­peu­tics’ can­cer drug plat­form. The sub­se­quent months have proven to be boom times for the pro­tein degra­da­tion field, as Roche wad­ed in­to the race, a pi­o­neer biotech loaded up and more new play­ers emerged.

Kymera it­self raised $102 mil­lion dur­ing this time, ush­er­ing the IRAK4 pro­gram and an­oth­er tar­get­ing STAT3 to­ward the clin­ic — for both in­flam­ma­tion/im­munol­o­gy and on­col­o­gy.

“Ob­vi­ous­ly when you’re work­ing out­side of tar­get­ed on­col­o­gy, you ac­tu­al­ly bring a lot more com­plex­i­ty giv­en that you’re go­ing af­ter a va­ri­ety of cell pop­u­la­tion and not just the one can­cer cell pop­u­la­tion,” Main­olfi said.

But just like their re­search blue­print­ing a E3 lig­ase whole body at­las, the CTO-turned-CEO sees it as es­sen­tial in­vest­ment to cre­ate a lead­ing, ful­ly in­te­grat­ed pro­tein degra­da­tion-fo­cused com­pa­ny. He’s al­so look­ing to add some­where be­tween 20 and 40 staffers to the 60-strong team with­in the next six months or so.

For Sanofi, it’s a bet that aligns well with a new­ly re­vamped R&D struc­ture where spe­cial­i­ty care and vac­cines take cen­ter stage.

“We’re com­ing from where there was not a lot of im­munol­o­gy, but we’ve built a high qual­i­ty team and that doesn’t mean we have the not in­vent­ed here syn­drome. If we see a great com­pound, a great col­lab­o­ra­tion with some of the best in the in­dus­try like Kymera, we go for it,” he said. “As you know, phar­ma can be a slow mov­ing train, so we’re build­ing this foun­da­tion but once the foun­da­tion is built, there’s one clin­i­cal can­di­date af­ter an­oth­er which is go­ing to come in­to the im­munol­o­gy/in­flam­ma­tion space.”

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls



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Ahead of the FDA’s decision on Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in February, the Big Pharma is dropping a first cut of data from one of the more interesting trials — but less important in a regulatory sense — at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

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Matt Gline, Roivant Sciences CEO (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for GLG)

Pfiz­er and Roivant team up again for an­oth­er 'Van­t', set­ting up an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry show­down with Prometheus

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There’s no name for the startup yet, nor are there any employees. Thus far, the new company and Roivant can be considered “one and the same,” Roivant CEO Matt Gline tells Endpoints News. But Pfizer is so enthusiastic about the target that it elected to keep 25% of equity in the drug rather than take upfront cash from Roivant, Gline said.

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Uğur Şahin, BioNTech CEO (ddp images/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech bets on dif­fi­cult STING field via small mol­e­cule pact with a Pol­ish biotech

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The deal is broken into two parts: First, BioNTech obtains an exclusive global license to develop and market Ryvu Therapeutics’ STING agonist portfolio as small molecules, whether alone or in combination with other agents.

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Tim Walbert, Horizon Therapeutics CEO (via YouTube)

Hori­zon Ther­a­peu­tics in takeover talks with Am­gen, J&J, Sanofi as po­ten­tial buy­ers

Amgen, J&J’s Janssen and Sanofi are all in talks to acquire Horizon Therapeutics, the rare disease biotech disclosed late Tuesday.

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Lynn Baxter, Viiv Healthcare's head of North America

Vi­iV dri­ves new cor­po­rate coali­tion in­clud­ing Uber, Tin­der and Wal­mart, aimed at end­ing HIV

ViiV Healthcare is pulling together an eclectic coalition of consumer businesses in a new White House-endorsed effort to end HIV by the end of the decade.

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Roche HQ in Basel, Switzerland. (Image credit: Kyle LaHucik/Endpoints News)

As com­peti­tors near FDA goal­post, Roche spells out its re­peat Alzheimer's set­back

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There was less than a 10% difference between Roche’s drug and placebo at slowing cognitive decline across two Phase III trials, which combined enrolled nearly 2,000 Alzheimer’s patients. In its presentation at the conference Wednesday, Roche said it saw less sweeping away of toxic proteins than it had anticipated. For years, researchers and investors have put their resources behind the idea that more amyloid removal would equate to reduced cognitive decline.

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SQZ Biotech slash­es head­count by 60% as founder/CEO hits ex­it — while Syn­log­ic lays off 25%

It’s a tough time for early-stage companies developing highly promising, but largely unproven, new technologies.

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