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.”

Nick Galakatos, Blackstone global head of life sciences

Nick Galakatos and the Black­stone team now have a record $4.6B to in­vest in bio­phar­ma, with a big fo­cus on push­ing com­pa­nies over the top

Nick Galakatos and his team at Blackstone Life Sciences have seen their biggest opportunities swell up in mostly established players who don’t have all the money they need to accomplish everything on the to-do list. And right now, with the industry booming, that’s a long list with some hefty needs.

The Blackstone team has neatly tied up the largest private fund ever raised in life sciences for making big dreams come true in biopharma. Late Thursday, Blackstone put out word that they had closed their highly anticipated fund with the projected $4.6 billion all in.

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Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

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Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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Andrew Kruegel, Kures president and co-founder (Columbia Tech Ventures via Vimeo)

Af­ter psilo­cy­bin and ke­t­a­mine, a new biotech comes along de­vel­op­ing a drug Scott Got­tlieb fought

Andrew Kruegel was six years into his chemistry work at Columbia University, when, one day in August 2016, he learned he might have only 30 days before the government made him destroy his research.

Kruegel had been studying kratom, a leaf long used in Southeast Asia as a stimulant or for pain. It had opioid-like properties, he found, but seemed to offer pain relief without the addictive potential or respiratory side effects of traditional opioids — a riddle that might help illuminate how human opioid receptors work.

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Atul Deshpande, Harbour BioMed chief strategy officer & head, US operations (Harbour BioMed)

An­oth­er biotech IPO set-up? Multi­na­tion­al biotech leaps from round to round, scoop­ing up cash at a blis­ter­ing pace

A short four months after announcing a $75 million haul in Series B+ fundraising, the multinational biotech Harbour BioMed pulled in another round of investments and eclipsed the nine-digit mark in the process.

Harbour completed its Series C financing, the company announced Thursday morning, raising $102.8 million and bringing its total investment sum to over $300 million since its founding in late 2016. The biotech plans to use the money to transition early-stage candidates from the discovery phase, fund candidates already in the clinic, and prep late-stage candidates for commercialization.

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Ed Engleman (Stanford Blood Center)

Stan­ford star on­col­o­gy sci­en­tist Ed En­gle­man helped cre­ate the im­munother­a­py field. Now he wants to shake up neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion R&D

Over the last generation of drug R&D, Ed Engleman has been a standout scientist.

The Stanford professor co-founded Dendreon and provided the scientific insights needed to develop Provenge into a pioneering — though not particularly marketable — immunotherapy. He’s spurred a slate of startups, assisted by his well-connected perch as a co-founder of Vivo Capital, and took the dendritic cell story into its next chapter at a startup called Bolt.

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Gilead boasts of pos­i­tive remde­sivir da­ta on mor­tal­i­ty — but their analy­sis pro­vokes the skep­tics

Gilead is surging again off data that suggest its antiviral remdesivir might improve survival.

The new data come from an analysis Gilead conducted comparing the death rate and recovery time of patients in one of its remdesivir trials to a group of 800 patients “with similar baseline characteristics and disease severity” who received only standard-of-care around the same time. The result, they said, suggested that patients who received remdesivir had a 62% better chance at surviving than those who did not.

Hal Barron, GSK

Win or lose on the mar­ket­ing OK, the FDA just gunned down GSK’s bright hopes for their BC­MA ther­a­py

The FDA’s ODAC — the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee — has a well-known bias in favor of adding new cancer drugs to the market, even if efficacy is at best marginal and serious safety issues demand careful management.

Doctors want as many arrows in their quiver as they can get. And when patients are dying after failing multiple drugs, why not give it a go one more time?

GlaxoSmithKline, though, is about to test out how their new BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin can do after being mauled in an in-house FDA review, ahead of the Tuesday expert panel discussion. Even if the agency goes ahead with an expected green light, this drug will likely be constrained to a small niche — icing any plans they may have for making waves in oncology anytime soon.

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Covid-19 roundup: BioN­Tech go­ing head-to-head with Mod­er­na as PhI­II mR­NA launch looms; Tri­al on Shin­zo Abe’s once-fa­vorite an­tivi­ral is in­con­clu­sive

It’s a race to the Phase III finish line now for the 2 leading mRNA vaccines in the pipeline for Covid-19.

BioNTech chief Ugur Sahin told the Wall Street Journal that his company will start Phase III testing of their vaccine later this month, setting them up to lateral the data to regulators before the end of this year.

That puts them essentially on the exact same schedule as Moderna is dedicated to. The Massachusetts rival to BioNTech also expects to launch Phase III this month. Lots of rumors have circulated about delays and conflict among the scientists advancing the Moderna jab, but the biotech has consistently stuck to its plan to start a late-stage pivotal this month.

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