Frontier and AbbVie Team Up Against Elusive Protein Targets

Chris Varma Fronteir Medicines

Frontier co-founder and CEO Chris Varma pictured above. Photo courtesy of Frontier.

Therapies developed using E3 ligase proteins will get a potent infusion, as AbbVie combines its commercialization expertise with Frontier Medicine’s proprietary chemoproteomics platform to develop potentially efficacious therapies for difficult-to-drug protein targets.

Under the global strategic collaboration, the companies will work together to discover, develop, and commercialize a pipeline of innovative small-molecule therapeutics against high-interest, elusive protein targets such as E3 ligases, of which there are approximately 600. 

Frontier co-founder and CEO, Chris Varma, explained the E3 ligase as a protein that can be utilized to create biofunctional molecules called degraders “that can actually drag these proteins that you want to the trash can of the cell and get rid of them.”

“What AbbVie has done, is they’ve really looked through the vast numbers of E3s and identified ones that they understand the biology around where they believe that they are context-specific. Then, when we come in with our chemistry of being able to then access these E3s, what’s cool is you can build degraders that are going to be specific to those particular tissues, and therefore you can ideally be able to avoid certain toxicities and make more precision medicines,” Varma said.

In the drug development landscape, scientists have thus far only accessed about 10% of the protein universe, while the other 90% have been inaccessible from a chemistry perspective. Varma is excited about the opportunity to go after more of them in this partnership with AbbVie.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to leverage our chemoproteomics expertise and make an impact across a vast number of targets. We can utilize our chemoproteomics platform to really go after now, a number of targets that we wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Varma. “We have real synergy with them (AbbVie). They’re not afraid of going after hard targets. They’ve done it themselves before, and it takes a lot of conviction to be able to do that.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Frontier will receive an upfront cash payment of $55 million and will be eligible to receive additional success-based development and commercial milestone payments that could exceed $1 billion, as the therapies progress toward commercialization. AbbVie will also reimburse Frontier’s R&D costs during pre-clinical development. 

Following the pre-clinical phase, AbbVie will take on full responsibility for the global development and commercialization activities and costs. Frontier will preserve an option to share in these development activities, as well as expenses for some oncology programs through the completion of Phase II and will receive royalty payments on commercialized products.

"AbbVie is focused on making investments in promising new technologies that assist us in our mission to develop innovative medicines," said AbbVie Vice President of Discover, Jose-Carlos Gutiérrez-Ramos. "One of our key strategic focus areas is targeted protein degradation and chemoproteomics, and this collaboration with Frontier Medicines will be highly synergistic and complementary to our ongoing efforts."

Illinois-based AbbVie is a global biopharmaceutical company endeavoring to solve serious diseases in immunology, oncology and neuroscience, among other therapeutic areas.

South San Francisco-based Frontier is a precision medicine company combining chemoproteomics, covalent drug discovery, and machine learning to develop medicines against disease-causing proteins previously considered undruggable, in similar therapeutic targets, with a particular focus on oncology.

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