Biotechs are increasingly looking to leverage a mechanism cells use to get rid of unwanted proteins to drug targets previously considered out of reach. Roche ponied up $135 million upfront this week to work with Vividion Therapeutics in search of small molecules that use that “protein degradation” process to do just that.
The drug discovery agreement is seeking small molecule drugs that can hit proteins considered “undruggable” by designing therapies that prompt the proteasome—the cellular machinery that disposes of waste—to get rid of problematic proteins. Under the agreement the companies plan to focus on a class of proteins known as E3 ligases, which are responsible for directing target proteins to the proteasome for degradation. A range of oncology and immunology therapeutic targets are also part of the alliance.
San Diego-based Vividion said its collaboration with the Swiss biotech could eventually net it “several billion dollars” in milestone payments, plus royalties on sales of any resulting products.
The deal terms put Vividion in charge of early drug discovery and pre-clinical development for some programs, and for a subset, the right to conduct clinical development up to proof-of-concept with the option to share development costs and split US profits and losses with Roche. Roche gets exclusive licensing rights to any resulting compounds at different stages of development.
Vividion emerged out of research conducted at The Scripps Research Institute. The biotech signed its first major deal in March 2018, a licensing agreement with Celgene (since acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) that brought it $101 million up front, including an equity investment. About a year later the privately held company added $82 million in outside investment to its coffers, bringing the total it had raised up to that point to more than $165 million.
Along with Roche other companies are also tapping into smaller biotechs’ work in the protein degradation space. Nearly a year ago Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) signed a deal with Nurix Therapeutics, paying $45 million up front for an alliance and the option to license drugs for up to five different disease targets.