Protein Stabilization Company Vicinitas Therapeutics Has Raised $65 Million In Series A

By Noah Long ● Aug 1, 2022
  • Vicinitas Therapeutics announced it has launched with $65 million in Series A funding. These are the details.

Vicinitas Therapeutics – a biotechnology company advancing a proprietary targeted protein stabilization platform to develop novel therapeutics in cancer and genetic disorders – recently announced it launched with $65 million in Series A financing. 

This funding round was co-led by a16z and Deerfield Management with participation from Droia Ventures, GV, The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, and the Berkeley Catalyst Fund. And Vicinitas Therapeutics is a spin-out company that resulted from the Deubiquitinase Targeting Chimera (DUBTAC) platform, which was developed through an academic-industry research collaboration between the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Many diseases like cancer and monogenic diseases are often caused by specific proteins that are abnormally degraded and lost from the cell. And in cancer, protective tumor suppressors are aberrantly destroyed, allowing cancer cells to circumvent cell death and promoting unobstructed cell proliferation. In monogenic disorders, the mutations in certain genes cause the resulting protein to become unstable and degraded, which leads to abnormally low levels of the particular protein and the disease pathology. Many aberrantly degraded proteins have been considered “undruggable” or intractable to drug discovery efforts and patients with these diseases could greatly benefit from a therapeutic that stabilizes and restores the levels of these proteins, allowing a normal function to be restored.

The DUBTAC platform was developed to therapeutically target the degraded proteins by removing ubiquitin chains (the tags on proteins that signal the cell to degrade and eliminate the protein using the cell’s protein disposal system) from specific proteins to stop their degradation and stabilize their levels for therapeutic benefit. And DUBTACs – developed through an academic-industry research collaboration between Professor Daniel Nomura, his research group at UC Berkeley, and scientists at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research – are bifunctional small molecules consisting of a protein-targeting ligand connected via a linker to a deubiquitinase (DUB) recruiter. Through a unique application of induced-proximity biology, DUBTACs bring a DUB into the vicinity of a ubiquitin-tagged protein to remove the ubiquitin chain and subsequently prevent degradation of the target protein.

In a study published in Nature Chemical Biology, Dr. Nomura, the Nomura Lab, and Novartis colleagues discovered covalent allosteric recruiters against OTUB1, a known DUB. They showed that this covalent OTUB1 recruiter could be linked to various protein-targeting ligands to stabilize the levels of aberrantly degraded proteins, including the mutated chloride channel CFTR that causes cystic fibrosis and the tumor suppressor WEE1 kinase in cancer cells.

Vicinitas Therapeutics exclusively licensed the DUBTAC platform from both UC Berkeley and Novartis and aims to become the leading company in targeted protein stabilization by developing next-generation disease therapies against an entire class of previously inaccessible aberrantly degraded proteins. And the company is initially focused on developing therapies in cancer and monogenic diseases.

Leadership Team and Formation of Scientific Advisory Board

The Vicinitas Therapeutics team includes a group of scientific leaders from academia and industry who have demonstrated years of commitment and success in the field and who remain dedicated to advancing science and technology and delivering highly impactful drugs.

Vicinitas Therapeutics’ leadership team includes:

— Daniel K. Nomura, Ph.D., Founder and Professor of Chemical Biology in the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology and the Molecular Therapeutics Division, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, UC Berkeley; Investigator at the Innovative Genomics Institute

— Daniel Marquess, D.Phil, Chief Scientific Officer

— Joe Budman, Ph.D., Vice President of Biology

And the Vicinitas Therapeutics’ board of directors includes:

— Jorge Conde, General Partner, a16z

— Cameron Wheeler, Ph.D., Partner, Deerfield Management

— George Golumbeski, Ph.D., Partner, Droia Ventures

— Daniel K. Nomura, Ph.D., Founder and Professor of Chemical Biology in the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology and the Molecular Therapeutics Division, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, UC Berkeley; Investigator at the Innovative Genomics Institute

Plus Vicinitas has also established a scientific advisory board, including:

— Daniel K. Nomura, Ph.D., Founder and Professor of Chemical Biology in the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology and the Molecular Therapeutics Division, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, UC Berkeley; Investigator at the Innovative Genomics Institute

— Michael Rape, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, UC Berkeley; Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

— Thomas Maimone, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, UC Berkeley

— James Olzmann, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Departments of Molecular and Cell Biology and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, UC Berkeley; Investigator of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub

— Kevan Shokat, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, UCSF; Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

— F. Dean Toste, Ph.D., Gerald E. K. Branch Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, UC Berkeley

— Angela Koehler, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Biological Engineering, MIT, Associate Director, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

KEY QUOTES:

“We are excited about the potential of the DUBTAC platform to develop novel therapies against therapeutic targets that were previously deemed undruggable and will respond to protein stabilization.” 

— Daniel K. Nomura, Ph.D., founder of Vicinitas Therapeutics and Professor of Chemical Biology in the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley

“The concept of chemically induced proximity – using multispecific molecules to bring two targets physically together – has yielded notable successes in the field of protein degradation. Vicinitas is leveraging its proprietary DUBTAC platform to pioneer the emerging space of targeted protein stabilization. This approach has the potential to access highly valued yet currently undruggable proteins and create differentiated therapies that will impact patient lives.”

— Jorge Conde, General Partner at a16z

“Vicinitas Therapeutics has emerged as a pioneer of targeted protein stabilization, and we’re excited to be a part of the Series A funding. As a therapeutic modality, stabilization has the power to elicit substantial changes to disease biology with relatively minor alterations to target proteins, and we are optimistic about the potential of the DUBTAC platform across oncology, rare and chronic diseases.”

— Cameron Wheeler, Ph.D., Partner at Deerfield Management