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Vertex follows pharma lead in bet on protein degradation

  • Vertex will partner with Kymera Therapeutics in a four-year development deal that hands the Atlas Venture-backed biotech $70 million in cash and equity investment, the companies announced Wednesday.
  • All told, the collaboration could be worth more than $1 billion for Kymera, which is one of several biotechs exploring whether a new type of small molecule drug can degrade disease-causing proteins in ways current technologies like antibodies cannot.
  • With its deal, Vertex joins larger pharmaceutical companies like Roche, Biogen and Pfizer in betting on what’s termed targeted protein degradation, a field Kymera shares with C4 Therapeutics and Arvinas.

Vertex isn’t Kymera’s first large biopharma partner, but the sizable upfront paid by Vertex make the deal Kymera’s most significant since it was founded in early 2016.

The collaboration also appears the largest by total potential consideration among recent deals involving protein degradation companies.

Kymera focuses on oncology as well as immunology/inflammation, and it’s the latter that attracted Vertex.

Per deal terms, Kymera will be responsible for initial research activities on disease targets covered by the collaboration. Once a candidate has been selected for clinical development, Vertex holds an option to secure an exclusive license — for as many as six programs.

The contingent payments that make up most of the deal’s overall value stretch across research, development, regulatory and commercial milestones.

Kymera, which has also partnered with GlaxoSmithKline in a two-year collaboration, hopes to enter the clinic with its technology as soon as next year.

Fueled by a $65 million Series B financing six months ago, Kymera’s research has yielded preclinical proof-of-concept in lymphoma that the company presented at last year’s annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

Arvinas is one step ahead, having recently begun Phase 1 testing of its lead candidate ARV-110 in metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

Much of the recent interest in Arvinas, Kymera and C4 Therapeutics centers on the potential their degradation approach offers to target previously “undruggable” proteins — a case laid out by Kymera co-founder and chief science officer Nello Mainolfi in a post on Atlas Venture’s blog Wednesday.

Technological promise is one thing, of course. Turning it into new therapeutics is another. Ionis Pharmaceuticals and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, for example, spent decades developing the antisense approach that’s now resulted in approved drugs like Spinraza (nusinersen) and Onpattro (patisiran).