Pro­tein degra­da­tion 2.0? Third Rock sinks $56M in­to Cedil­la's un­usu­al ap­proach

Third Rock Ven­tures is trot­ting out the lat­est play­er in the hot space of pro­tein degra­da­tion, in­fus­ing the new start­up with $56 mil­lion in launch mon­ey to find out if its un­con­ven­tion­al ap­proach to junk­ing pro­teins works bet­ter than its ri­vals.

The up­start goes by Cedil­la Ther­a­peu­tics, and it’s en­ter­ing a field of drug de­vel­op­ment that’s pick­ing up a lot of steam this year. The con­cept be­hind the emerg­ing space is sim­ple enough: where pro­tein in­hi­bi­tion has led to some ad­vanced med­i­cines, de­grad­ing pro­teins could prove a more fruit­ful so­lu­tion. The ap­proach could have ma­jor ben­e­fits over tra­di­tion­al small-mol­e­cule strate­gies, in­clud­ing the po­ten­tial to cut down sys­temic drug ex­po­sure and the abil­i­ty to tack­le tar­get pro­teins once con­sid­ered un­drug­gable.

Many play­ers in pro­tein degra­da­tion are tack­ling the field by hi­jack­ing the ubiq­ui­tin process, es­sen­tial­ly tag­ging dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins for de­struc­tion by re­cruit­ing an E3 lig­ase to the tar­get, which sends the pro­tein to the cell’s nat­ur­al “garbage dis­pos­al.” It’s a smart idea, but it’s al­so quite com­plex to build these mol­e­cules. Ear­ly pi­o­neers in the pro­tein degra­da­tion space are tak­ing this ap­proach now, in­clud­ing Arv­inas, Kymera, and C4 Ther­a­peu­tics, among oth­ers.

Cedil­la is tak­ing aim at a dif­fer­ent av­enue, the com­pa­ny’s CEO Alexan­dra (San­dra) Glucks­mann tells me.

“What we’re try­ing to do is up­stream of that whole process,” she said. “In­stead of start­ing with a tech­nol­o­gy and then hav­ing to find a tar­get — and be­ing lim­it­ed by the tech we have — we are in­stead start­ing with a tar­get of in­ter­est and ap­ply­ing dif­fer­ent method­olo­gies to de­grade it.”

Bri­an Jones

Third Rock has been gun­ning away on this idea for months now, re­cruit­ing Glucks­mann, a found­ing em­ploy­ee and the ex-COO of Ed­i­tas, to serve as en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence at the ven­ture firm six months ago (with plans to put her at the helm of Cedil­la straight away). Glucks­mann said the com­pa­ny al­ready em­ploys 12 peo­ple.

In short, Cedil­la is us­ing more tra­di­tion­al small mol­e­cule drugs to desta­bi­lize dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins ahead of the ubiq­ui­ti­na­tion process. Once the pro­teins are un­sta­ble, the cell rec­og­nizes them as dys­func­tion­al and toss­es them in the garbage dis­pos­al.

One way the com­pa­ny is go­ing about this is by map­ping out the chem­i­cal bonds be­tween pro­teins. The goal, Glucks­mann says, is to “or­phan” a tar­get pro­tein by dis­rupt­ing its bonds with oth­er pro­teins, tip­ping the tar­get in­to an un­sta­ble state.

Cedil­la is al­ready run­ning 8 ear­ly-stage pro­grams in par­al­lel, Glucks­mann said, us­ing the new funds from Third Rock to ID which can­di­dates they’ll take to the clin­ic. The com­pa­ny thinks this tech could be have wide­spread ap­pli­ca­tions.

“We are ini­tial­ly fo­cused on on­col­o­gy tar­gets,” said Cedil­la’s CSO Bri­an Jones. “We al­so be­lieve our small mol­e­cule ap­proach is broad­ly ap­plic­a­ble, for ex­am­ple to ac­cess tar­gets in the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem.”

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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