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With $45M Nurix Deal, Gilead Enters Crowded Protein Degradation Field

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Gilead Sciences is turning to Nurix Therapeutics in an effort to discover new drugs that harness the cellular machinery our bodies use to dispose of damaged or harmful proteins.

Foster City, CA-based Gilead (NASDAQ: GILD) will pay Nurix $45 million up front to kickstart the alliance, through which the companies aim to develop drugs for cancer and other unspecified diseases. The deal also includes up to $2.3 billion in potential downstream payments for Nurix, though the San Francisco startup would have to hit a variety of development and sales targets to get that cash. The deal does not include Nurix’s most advanced program, a potential cancer drug in preclinical testing.

In aligning itself with Nurix, Gilead is jumping into an increasingly competitive field of drug research known as “protein degradation.” Nurix is one of several companies—including Arvinas (NASDAQ: ARVN), Kymera Therapeutics, C4 Therapeutics, and several others—developing drugs that are meant to cause the proteasome, the body’s cellular garbage disposal, to get rid of problematic proteins. The strategy is attractive to drugmakers because it may expand the reach of traditional small-molecule drugs, enabling them to get to proteins they previously couldn’t.

Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), for instance, paid Nurix $150 million in 2015 to tap into its protein degradation work via a pact focused on inflammatory and neurological diseases. Two programs have emerged from the partnership. Both are still preclinical. Arvinas raised $120 million through an IPO last year. C4 Therapeutics has deals with Roche, Calico, and Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB). And just last month, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) formed a research pact with Kymera.

The Nurix deal gives Gilead the option to license drugs for up to five different disease targets. Nurix has the option to split US rights, profits, and development costs for up to two of them. If it exercises those options, Nurix would get royalties from sales outside of the US, but reduced milestone payments.

Nurix was seeded by Third Rock Ventures and The Column Group in 2012. Here’s more on Nurix’s approach to protein degradation.

Public domain image by Flickr user Bernard Spragg. NZ