Forma enlists expert partners to create a portfolio of virtual cancer biotechs

Forma Therapeutics has enlisted some expert assistance through Cancer Research UK's extensive scientific network to drum up a slate of new cancer drug programs in the field of protein homeostasis, with plans to populate a portfolio of virtual companies that can be partnered or sold to its biopharma clientele. And some of these new therapies may wind up in the hands of Celgene ($CELG), which teamed up with Forma's R&D engine just two months ago to explore protein homeostasis.

This new partnership is all about the "commercialization of great academic science and great biology," says Forma CEO Steven Tregay, who's been wheeling and dealing in recent years to create $350 million in development pacts. And Tregay says he expects to do at least one other similar academic collaboration over the next 12 months.

Steven Tregay

Tregay has set up a research group with 110 staffers, a rare feat in the biotech world, which has been living lean and mean over the past few years. Unlike most biotechs, which tend to concentrate on one or two lead drugs in development, Forma--a 2011 Fierce 15 company-- has been developing a rich set of skills on drug development and executing a series of collaborations to finance the work. Protein homeostasis--which deals with a central disease pathway in cancer, neurodegenerative ailments and more--is one of the hot fields that has entered Forma's spotlight.

In the new partnership, Forma will be working with a few key scientists on protein homeostasis regulators called deubiquitinating enzymes, finding new ways to manipulate protein levels in cells. Under this new pact, Forma and a group of 5 key scientists will work together to screen for a set of lead therapeutic candidates. They will create up to 10 of what Tregay has dubbed ADDCos (Asset Discovery and Development Company), virtual subsidiaries which can later be fed into the Celgene partnership or parleyed into new deals with other companies.

"There's always this tension between timelines of financing a venture-backed company and the path to liquidity," says Tregay, an experienced hand in the field of doing deals. By setting up these programs as standalone projects, it's easier to earn money that can be paid back out to his investors--long before the traditional exits of an IPO or an M&A deal.

Forma's relationship with Cancer Research UK, a prominent nonprofit, puts him at the same bench with professors Michael Clague and Sylvie Urbe at the University of Liverpool, the University of Oxford's Dr. Benedikt Kessler, Dr. David Komander of the Medical Research Council, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, U.K., and Dr. Huib Ovaa who works at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. The scientific team can grow as the partnership progresses, and everyone gets to share in any deals that are struck on the assets.

- here's the press release

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