Dewpoint Therapeutics has signed its second biopharma partnership, teaming up with Merck to explore the potential of using its discoveries around “droplets” of biomolecules that form inside cells to create a new HIV treatment.
The companies’ aim is an ambitious one: develop a drug candidate that could prove curative, rather than suppress the infection as currently available treatments do. More than 1 million people in the US alone were living with HIV in 2018, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Merck has long played a leadership role in the HIV treatment field, having actively researched the virus and how to address it for more than 30 years. Dewpoint, in turn, leads a relatively new field that’s researching the liquid-like compartments that form within cells, structures that are known as biomolecular condensates. Unlike the organelles within cells, whose roles in cellular functions has been extensively studied, these condensates aren’t bound by membranes.
Only recently has research revealed that the structures, which encompass proteins, RNAs, and other biomolecules, play a role in both normal biological functions and disease processes—including viral infection.
Dewpoint aim to use its ability to study how these biomolecules and the condensate “communities” they form operate and interact to discover drugs that may be able to change the progression of disease in new ways.
The research around which the company was founded indicates that diseases as varied as cancer, neurodegeneration, and metabolic disease, plus others, may be affected by condensates or spurred by condensate dysfunction.
To tap into Dewpoint’s expertise, Merck has agreed to shell out up to $305 million in upfront and milestone payments, plus royalties on sales of any approved product that comes out of their collaboration.
Dewpoint, which has offices in Boston and in the German cities of Dresden and Berlin, launched in January 2019 with $60 million from founding investors Polaris Partners and others. The company signed its first major deal in November of that year, a research agreement with Bayer that made the startup eligible for up to $100 million in connection with the companies’ aim to develop new drugs for cardiovascular and gynecological diseases. Bayer previously participated in Dewpoint’s Series A financing round through its investment arm, Leaps by Bayer.