Arrakis Enters Multi-Billion Dollar Deal with Roche to Develop RNA-based Therapies


Waltham, Massachusetts-based Arrakis Therapeutics inked a strategic collaboration and license deal with Switzerland-based Roche. They will focus on discovering RNA-targeted small molecule (rSM) drugs against a range of targets across all of Roche’s research and development areas. Those areas are cancer, immunology and infectious diseases, neuroscience, ophthalmology and rare diseases.

Under the terms of the agreement, Roche will pay Arrakis $190 million in cash up front. The company will also be eligible for various preclinical, clinical, commercial and sales milestone payments and royalties on any commercial products. Although specific numbers are not released, they indicate that the total potential value could exceed several billion dollars.

“We are excited to partner with Roche’s strong research and development team,” said Michael Gilman, Arrakis’ chief executive officer. “Together, we share a common vision of accessing new drug targets at the RNA level and thereby discovering novel medicines to treat diseases with high unmet medical need.”

On its own, Arrakis focuses on dyslipidemia and also has three active cancer programs. They include MEK, another is an oncology-related transcription factor, and the last is a synthetic lethal gene.

RNA plays an intermediary role between DNA and protein, carrying instructions from the DNA to ribosomes, where the proteins are actually assembled based on those instructions. Arrakis takes a multifactorial approach, targeting various mechanisms across the RNA lifecycle. It integrates RNA bioinformatic and structural tools, curated chemical libraries, RNA-specific tests, and RNA-guided medicinal chemistry.

“Through our pioneering work in RNA biology, we have built a platform for creating and adapting drug discovery tools that allow us to predict and validate the structure of RNA targets, locate druggable pockets, identify drug-like hits, and conduct medicinal chemistry programs to discover a new class of RNA-targeted medicines optimized for potency, selectivity, and safety,” said Jennifer C. Petter, founder and chief scientific officer of Arrakis. “This agreement with Roche underscores the value inherent in our rSM platform and will enable us to continue to make leading discoveries and further scientific contributions in the field.”

A year ago, in April 2019, the company completed a $75 million Series B financing. It was co-led by venBio Partners and Nextech Invest. Participating new investors included Omega Funds, HBM Healthcare Investments, GV (formerly Google Ventures), WuXi AppTec Venture Fund, and Alexandria Venture Investments. Existing investors also participated, including Canaan Partners, Advent Life Sciences, Pfizer Ventures, Celgene Corporation, Osage University Partners and the estate of Henri Termeer. In total, the company raised $113 million in two venture capital rounds.

The company was founded in 2015. With the new funding, the company plans to double its workforce in Massachusetts, although because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will occur remotely.

“This week we had our first new employee who was remotely onboarded,” Gilman said in an interview with MSN. “We shipped a laptop to her house and had a company Zoom call where we all got to meet her for the first time on video—it’s weird, but everyone is dealing with it and people are trying to have some fun with it.”

In its research to date, the company has identified more than 100 potential drugs worth working on. With a company that only had 38 staffers, there’s more than enough work to go around—too much in fact.

“If our commitment here is to see as many medicines as possible get developed off our platform, we needed to find a partner to leverage what we have done,” Gilman told MSN. “I really think there is an opportunity to generate dozens and dozens of medicines off of this platform, and that is why a partnership with a company like Roche is just so important.”

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