Vertex continues shopping, spending $20M upfront to access Ribometrix's RNA-drugging platform
Vertex, flush with $4 billion in cash and cash equivalents (as of June 30), has been on the prowl to park its excess capital in places with potential. Its latest injection is in Durham, North Carolina-based Ribometrix — a startup working on targeting RNA with small molecule drugs.
Created by Kevin Weeks, a chemist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his former undergraduate student Katie Warner — the company is part of a slate of drug developers such as Skyhawk Therapeutics, Arrakis and Expansion Therapeutics, as well as Novartis $NVS and Merck $MRK who have similar lofty ambitions.
While most existing drugs focus on proteins, Ribometrix is working on changing the behavior of disease-causing RNA embroiled in neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. Ribometrix’s technology suggests strands of RNA implicated in disease are characterized by clefts and crevices into which small-molecule drugs can bind, which in turn can modulate RNA activity.
Earlier this month, Ribometrix raised $7.8 million, to add to the $30 million Series A funding round — backed by Merck and Amgen — unveiled in November 2018. Vertex has now put in $20 million upfront — including an equity investment — in a deal that will see the two entities work together on three therapeutic programs, including one ongoing discovery program from Ribometrix.
Ribometrix is eligible to receive more than $700 million in milestones payments, in addition to potential net global sales on any products that result from the collaboration.
For Vertex $VRTX, the deal is valuable as it looks to expand its technological prowess beyond its blockbuster slate of cystic fibrosis (CF) treatments. As it awaits the approval of its CF triplet — which is engineered to treat a much broader set of patients — the company has signaled its appetite for deals.
Earlier this year, Vertex agreed to buy gene-editing pioneer Exonics — born in the lab of UT Southwestern investigator Eric Olson — for $245 million, while setting aside another $175 million to expand its work with Swiss-based gene-editing company CRISPR Therapeutics. In September, Vertex agreed to spend close to a billion dollars to purchase Semma Therapeutics — a biotech company working on a cure for type I diabetes, based on decades of work by Harvard professor Doug Melton.
The Boston biotech’s CEO Jeffrey Leiden is also planning to transition to the chairman’s role next spring, to make room for current CMO Reshma Kewalramani.
Social image: Vertex