Novartis Links with UK's Dunad in $1.3 Billion Protein Degradation Deal

Novartis_Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Novartis has forged a collaboration with U.K.-startup Dunad Therapeutics to develop next-generation targeted protein-degradation therapies in a deal valued at up to $1.3 billion.

Dunad, which is based in Cambridge, England, emerged from stealth mode in March of this year, backed by the financial strength of Epidarex Capital. Dunad’s small molecule platform prompts the degradation of disease-causing proteins by modifying the target using mono-valent small molecules. Novartis is banking on Dunad’s claims that its novel approach is “fully tuneable to be exquisitely selective and underpinned by a target-class agnostic mechanism of action that is distinct from other targeted protein degradation technologies.” The small U.K. company believes its platform has the potential to develop orally bioavailable and CNS-accessible degrader therapeutics that can “significantly expand the frontiers of protein degradation targets.”

With Novartis, Dunad will apply its platform to generate novel covalent and targeted protein-degrading small molecule drugs focusing on up to four drug targets. Dunad will be responsible for the development of the assets until lead optimization. For its part, Novartis will contribute target and ligand knowledge. The Swiss pharma giant will also provide Dunad with access to unique assays and models and provide full funding for the project. Novartis will have an exclusive option to develop and commercialize any products that result from the agreement.

Under the terms of the deal, Novartis will provide Dunad with $24 million in an upfront payment and equity investment. Dunad will also be eligible for milestone payments that could climb to as much as $1.3 billion.

The protein degradation field has deepened with more companies investing resources into this approach. Companies like PhoreMost and Kymera Therapeutics have built a pipeline around the field. Earlier this year, Pfizer struck a $1 billion deal with Connecticut-based Arvinas to develop and commercialize its PROTAC estrogen receptor protein degrader. With the Dunad deal, Novartis will carve out its own stake with the intriguing modality.

Patrick Gunning, Ph.D., co-founder and acting chief executive officer and chief scientific officer of Dunad, expressed his excitement about the partnership with Novartis.

“This deal highlights the clear benefits our platform promises for the development of next-generation targeted protein degrader therapeutics. We are confident that with our approach of inducing degradation via direct modulation of target proteins with mono-valent small molecules, we can significantly expand the boundaries of targeted protein degraders as a therapeutic modality,” Gunning said in a statement.

Diana Kraskouskaya, Ph.D., co-founder and chief operating officer of Dunad, noted that the collaboration with Novartis is a significant milestone for the young company. She said the partnership will allow the company to “rapidly expand the impact of our platform technology to additional target classes and therapeutic areas, beyond Dunad’s own internal target pipeline.” Kraskouskaya added that Dunad is committed to advancing its pipeline to tackle previously intractable targets.

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