What You Need to Know About Relay Therapeutics
Based in Cambridge, Mass. and founded in February 2016, Relay Therapeutics focuses on developing therapeutics involving protein motion. For decades, the technology hasn’t been available or affordable to completely evaluate the movement of proteins, which in the body are in constant motion.
Sanjiv Patel, Relay’s president and chief executive officer, told BioSpace, “Mark Murcko, formerly chief technology officer of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, has joined Relay as one of its founders. While at Vertex, what he worked out was that proteins move physiologically in the body, constantly moving. So, visualizing the fourth dimension and motion, you can gain insight into how proteins are physiologically active in the body. And we could use that to get and design better drugs.”
Patel went on to say, “Relay was formed based on that premise, visualizing protein motion, and understanding how they move, using technology with experimentation as well as computation to create consensus movies to design better drugs. So we have a very powerful experimentation part using emerging techniques that allow us to visualize motion, such as X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy, which was the winner of this year’s Nobel for Chemistry. One of the other challenges is the amount of data that’s involved in visualizing motion. Earlier, it would have taken several years and been cost-prohibitive. But the cost has come down, so the experimental techniques and the increasing power of computation allows us for the first time to visualize proteins moving in the body and using that insight to design better drugs.”
By seeing all the proteins’ shapes and movement, Deborah Palestrant, the company’s vice president of Corporate Development and Strategy, said, “It’s more on identifying pockets where you might be able to intervene with a small molecule and modulate the protein’s function.”
Sanjiv Patel – president and chief executive officer. Before joining Relay, Patel was with Allergan for over 10 years, including leading Global Strategic Marketing and general management of Emerging Markets. He was most recently Allergan’s chief strategy officer.
Mark Murcko – chief scientific officer. Up to November 2011, Murcko was chief technology officer and chair of the scientific advisory board of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Before Vertex, he worked at Merck Sharpe & Dohme. He was also a senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT.
Christine Bellon – senior vice president, Legal Affairs. Before joining Relay, Bellon was vice president of Legal Affaris and Corporate Secretary at Blueprint Medicines.
Deborah Palestrant – vice president of Corporate Development and Strategy. Prior to joining Relay, Palestrant led the business development team at Editas Medicine. As a senior associate at Third Rock Ventures, she was involved in conceiving and launching Editas.
Christine Cutting – Operations and Administration. Before Relay, Cutting was director of Operations for the Children’s League of Massachusetts.
Relay launched in September 2016 with $57 million in Series A financing. It was led by Third Rock Ventures and joined by an affiliate of D.E. Shaw Research. Palestrant says, “We’re using that to build the platform as well as to embark on our pipeline, which has a number of compounds focused on oncology.”
On Dec. 14, 2017, the company closed on a Series B financing round worth $63 million. The round was led by BVF Partners, with new investors GV (formerly Google Ventures), Casdin Capital, EcoR1 Capital and Section 32. Existing investors Third Rock Ventures and Alexandria Venture Investments participated.
The company currently has four programs, largely focused on oncology. Palestrant told Biospace, “Two are advancing quite speedily toward the clinic. We’ve used those programs to grease the wheels on the platform, and the platform is being built and is generating quite a bit of chemical matter along the way.”
They aren’t disclosing specific targets or even diseases yet, but hope to get into the clinic in 2019.
In a statement made at the close of the Series B round, Kanishka Pothula, a managing director at BVF Partners who joined the company’s board of directors, said, “Relay Therapeutics’ platform, focused on understanding protein motion, represents a paradigm shift in drug discovery. The company’s pipeline has already delivered impressive early results and we’re excited to be a part of Relay’s future.”
All pharma and biotech companies are, at some level, involved with proteins and their structure. Palestrant, however, says, “I don’t think anyone is working specifically at the intersection of experimentation and computation. There are several companies using different tools in our platform, for example just computation, or just experimentation, but I think what makes us unique is we’re using both of these things together to really identify unique hypotheses of how to interact with the proteins. It’s not just computational, but the experimental is really seeping into the computational.”
Dollars and Deals
It’s early for the company, but they are at least exploring conversations with potential partners and deciding what makes sense for the company and its platform.
What to Look For
The company hopes to have one or two compounds in the clinic by 2019. Palestrant told BioSpace, “We’re continuing to add to our pipeline and hope to add one or two programs a year as we advance the company. So, in three years there will be a couple of programs in the clinic, and we’ll have a robust pipeline behind that, all based on protein motion and our platform. It’ll be all about generating a robust pipeline in oncology over the next three to five years.”
Although oncology is the initial focus, they will also be working to apply the platform more broadly to other diseases, through partnerships or licensing opportunities.