Belharra Launches with $130M From Versant, Genentech to Advance Chemoproteomics Platform (Updated)

Genentech_Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Courtesy Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Versant Ventures-backed Belharra Therapeutics launched Wednesday with $130 million in total financing to advance its novel chemoproteomics platform. 

The funding includes $50 million in Series A financing from Versant and $80 million upfront from Roche’s Genentech, with whom Belharra has inked a multi-year partnership deal. 

In its announcement, Belharra stated its platform can overcome the challenges in the chemoproteomics space, as it does not need specific amino acid residues to exist on a protein in order to identify and label the proteome. Instead, the platform relies on its photochemistry technology.

Originally born out of a Scripps Research laboratory, the technology uses a library of photoaffinity-based chemical probes that identify and trap protein-ligand interactions. According to Behlarra, this allows the platform to pinpoint non-covalent, small-molecule drug candidates for “any binding site, on any protein, in any conformational state, in any cell type.” 

Jeff Jonker, CEO of Belharra, explained the premise of the platform in an interview with BioSpace.

"The idea in its most simple form is that you're using the light signature that each individual protein and each individual chemical gives off and seeing where they interact using that sort of fairly high throughput process of screening," Jonker said. 

Chemoproteomics itself is nothing new, and scholarly articles published in scientific journals detailing its potential for decades.

But Jonker called Belharra’s platform a “first,” as it allows the company to target the “full range of protein classes and targets.” Previously, Jonker also served in a leadership role at Genentech. 

“Our platform enables us to rapidly rescreen all of the previously ‘undruggable’ protein targets to identify actionable non-covalent drug-like ligands for functional binding pockets,” Jonker said. 

In terms of the deal with Genentech, Jonker told BioSpace the partnership was a long time coming. 

"Versant Ventures has had a long and close relationship with Genentech, and there's a number of ties between our co-founders and folks who are in the leadership at Genentech and Roche," he said, adding, "There's a long history with the technology that underlies what Belharra is doing." 

This announcement comes on the heels of a successful year for Genentech, with multiple FDA approvals in the last month alone. On Dec. 23, it scored FDA approval for Lunsumio, a bispecific antibody for the treatment of relapsed/refractory follicular lymphoma. Two days prior, the agency had also approved Genentech’s Actemra to treat COVID-19 in hospitalized adults.

Genentech was also busy on the partnership front throughout 2022, signing several large, multi-year deals. This included a deal with Arsenal Biosciences in September, a license agreement with Jemincare in August and a deal with Bicycle Therapeutics in July, among others. 

Though neither company gave specific details beyond the announcement of the collaboration, the large sum Genentech provided for Belharra’s launch speaks to the confidence its team must have in the brand new biotech.

Back to news