Epizyme Nabs $650M Deal With Glaxo To Hunt for Epigenetic Drugs

Xconomy Boston — 

Cambridge, MA-based Epizyme has found its first big partner to help support its work in hunting for new drugs based on the emerging science around epigenetics.

Epizyme said today it has formed a new alliance with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. The deal calls for the big company to pay a $20 million upfront fee, plus research funding, and a potential $630 million in development milestones for the right to collaborate on a number of drug targets for cancer and other diseases. The news was released this morning at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, the biggest annual meeting for biotech investing and dealmaking.

The deal hinges on Epizyme’s ability to help Glaxo discover small molecule drugs aimed at certain enzymes known as histone methyltransferases. By interacting with such enzymes, the new drugs are supposed to build on what scientists have learned in recent years about epigenetics, a field that examines how certain genes get turned on or off without altering the underlying DNA. Epizyme said two years ago that its main focus was to develop these drugs for cancer, but by the fall of 2009, the company said it saw broader opportunities to also make treatments for inflammatory diseases, metabolic disorders, and neurodegenerative conditions.

Epizyme wasn’t that specific about which therapeutic areas it will pursue in today’s announcement with Glaxo.

“Epizyme’s mission is to develop personalized therapeutics for genetically-defined patients based on our understanding of the driving role played by many histone methyltransferases in human disease,” CEO Robert Gould said in a statement. “We are excited to be working with GSK. This collaboration validates our unique discovery platform.”

I’m meeting later this morning with Gould at the JP Morgan conference and will update this space if needed.