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Gilead acquires San Diego startup for early-stage cancer, immune drugs

Dive Brief:

  • Gilead Sciences on Tuesday said it has acquired the privately held biotechnology company XinThera for an undisclosed sum, gaining access to a slate of experimental drugs for cancer and inflammatory diseases.


  • XinThera’s drugs, which could enter clinical trials later this year, block the proteins PARP1 or MK2. The former is one of a family of enzymes involved in repairing DNA damage and targeted by several approved medicines for certain ovarian, breast and prostate cancers.


  • “The team at XinThera has developed research assets with the potential to target the DNA damage repair pathway in treating cancer and direct the body’s immune response in inflammatory diseases, both of which may improve outcomes for people living with these diseases,” said Flavius Martin, Gilead’s head of research.


Dive Insight:

After two large, public company acquisitions in 2020, Gilead has taken a quieter approach to dealmaking, inking deals for privately held biotechs like Myr Pharmaceuticals, MiroBio and Tmunity Therapeutics.

XinThera bolsters Gilead’s early-stage pipeline in two fields of research that remain central to many drugmakers’ R&D plans: cancer and inflammatory diseases.

Gilead has steadily expanded its research presence in oncology and, with XinThera’s experimental PARP inhibitors, appears to be exploring a second-generation approach to a well-validated target. XinThera’s three compounds are all designed to selectively target one type of PARP protein, rather than the several blocked by drugs like AstraZeneca and Merck & Co.’s Lynparza.

Those drugs can effectively treat specific types of tumors, especially those that harbor mutations in another gene known as BRCA. But they come with side effects and, recently, have been scrutinized by regulators in the U.S. for use in certain indications.

According to Gilead, small molecule inhibitors of PARP1 specifically might avoid some of the blood-related toxicity caused by first-generation PARP blockers, and be more readily combined with drugs like Trodelvy, which Gilead acquired in one of its 2020 deals.

XinThera’s MK2 drug candidates are being considered for development in rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, among other inflammatory conditions.

While Gilead did not disclose financial terms of the deal, it said the acquisition would lower its GAAP and non-GAAP earnings per share by between $0.12 and $0.15 this year.

For XinThera, the deal comes about two years after its founding by industry veterans Stephen Kaldor, Qing Dong and Gene Hung. The company raised $80 million in private funding from investors that include OrbiMed Advisors, Foresite Capital and TTM Capital. It’s headquartered in San Diego.