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Novartis-linked startup launches with technology designed to remove useful protein "break" tags

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Drug development relies on several important principles. One is that the drug needs to interact with the right molecules in the body for it to function.

However, it is difficult to meet that requirement. The useful ingredients of most medicines are microscopic. So so is their goal. In the relatively large spaces of tissue and blood, it is rarely guaranteed that the parts needed for a therapeutic response will come together.

As a result, there are more pockets of research focused on drug design to overcome this challenge. Vicinitas Therapeutics, a biotechnology company launched on Thursday, is built around this type of research.

Vicinitas wants to prevent cells from breaking down beneficial proteins by removing molecular tags called ubiquitin chains. Vicinitas has the technology to mobilize special enzymes to remove tags, thereby stabilizing proteins.

“In recent years, proteolysis research has received a great deal of attention in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries,” said Daniel Nomura, a professor of chemical biology at the University of California, Berkeley and founder of Vicinitas. Conversely, Nomura argues that less attention has been paid to techniques aimed at protecting or restoring proteins.

“There are many proteins and diseases in which the pathology of the disease is caused by abnormally degraded proteins and the proteins are lost from the cells,” he said. “And if we can stabilize the levels of those proteins and restore their function, it will enable the treatment of the disease.”

Vicinitas is a by-product of a partnership that began in 2017 between the University of California, Berkeley and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research to address “non-drug” proteins. In February, the company’s technology was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, showing how researchers discovered a recruiter molecule that could stabilize among other types of proteins when linked to a drug developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Explains in detail. Mutants that cause cystic fibrosis.

Immediately after publication, Nomura said he had “a great deal of interest in venture capital” investing in companies that adopted this protein stabilization technology.

Since then, Vicinitas has raised $ 65 million in a Series A round jointly led by venture a16z and crossover company Deerfield Management. The round was also attended by Droia Ventures, The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, Berkeley Catalyst Fund, and Alphabet’s venture division GV.

Nomura said that as the company builds a “robust” slate for its pharmaceutical program and expands its technology platform, it will keep Vicinitas up and running long enough for the new fund to reach a “value inflection.” I’m expecting it.

He added that Vicinitas is “always looking” for business development transactions. “I think there are many potential strategic partnerships, and I’m certainly interested in understanding what they are interested in,” Nomura said.

Initially, Vicinitas will focus not only on hereditary diseases associated with changes in a single gene, but also on the development of treatments for cancer. For example, cystic fibrosis is a disease that the company is “certainly pursuing,” following a recent study published in Nature, Nomura said.

According to Nomura, another area of ​​interest is “haploinsufficiency.” This occurs when there is only one working copy of the gene, leading to inadequate production of the required protein.

Vicinitas has not yet disclosed how many programs it is working on and when the most advanced programs will be able to participate in human testing.

Nomura will be part of the Vicinitas leadership team and will hold a seat on the company’s board of directors. Joining him are Jorow Conde, a16z’s general partner, Cameron Wheeler, Deerfield’s partner, and George Gorumbe, a well-known Droy Aventures partner in the biotechnology industry of his time in Celgene. It’s skiing. Ten years before the company’s final $ 74 billion sale to Bristol Myers Squibb.