Pharma, R&D

Sleuthy Google upstart Calico forges a rare biotech collaboration on aging with Novartis-backed C4

Andy Phillips, C4

The elusive but widely buzzed about Calico, a startup bankrolled by Google to find new therapies for aging, has hitched up with protein degeneration-focused C4 Therapeutics with plans to embark on a 5-year, cross country research collaboration.

The deal announcement is long on overarching goals, such as a preclinical focus on cancer, among other areas, but with little insight into the numbers or the work. And that’s just the way Calico likes to keep it, carefully cloaking its activities more like an IT company than any average biotech.

We do know that the companies will work together on preclinical programs, with Calico taking charge of any clinical development work that may emerge.

“I’m not sharing how many things are being worked on,” says Andy Phillips, president and CSO at C4. The goal here is to take a number of projects for targeted protein degradation through IND stage, on to the clinic and eventually people.

But Calico is staying buttoned up. Says Phillips: “We’ve agreed with Calico that we can’t comment on their behalf in regards to these types of things.”

Calico, of course, is the brainchild of Google’s Larry Page, who’s been keenly interested in taking a new approach in developing drugs that will add to our life spans. He brought in one of the best teams in biotech, starting with Genentech legend Art Levinson and following up with his longtime colleague Hal Baron.

The deal is intended to be “highly collaborative,” says Phillips, coming on top of some aggressive growth over the past year that recently included their 53rd (or 54th) employee. And Phillips expects that number to grow into the 60s by the end of the year.

C4 launched a little more than a year ago with a $73 million round led by Cobro Ventures and including Novartis along with a $750 million partnership with Roche. They’ve been working on small molecule binders — dubbed degronimids — that can target, destroy and clear disease-causing proteins through the ubiquitin/proteasome system.

C4 is advancing research work that Jay Bradner did on protein degradation at Dana-Farber before he took the high-profile head job at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, better known as NIBR.

Calico, meanwhile, is based in The Cove at Oyster Point all the way across the country, a booming biotech development that includes biotechs like CytomX and Denali.

Over the four years since Calico launched, the company has been allying itself with some big labs. The Broad, The Buck, UCSF, and the Jackson Laboratory have all signed on to do basic biology research. But there have been few biotech alliances, aside from a couple of deals with low-profile companies like QB3 and 2M.

Don’t expect any comment from the stellar team at Calico, though. Like any Google startup, mum’s the word.

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