Genentech deal continues big 2015 for in silico specialist Nimbus

Nimbus CEO Don Nicholson

This year is shaping up to be a pivotal one for Nimbus Therapeutics. Having pocketed $43 million from a clutch of big-name backers in March, the computational chemistry specialist has persuaded Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech to license an interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase 4 (IRAK4) inhibitor program.

Cambridge, MA-based Nimbus has picked up an undisclosed upfront fee in exchange for the global rights to its early-stage pipeline of IRAK4 inhibitors. Genentech will take responsibility for moving the programs through preclinical testing and into the clinic, handing out milestone payments to Nimbus as it goes. The deal gives Nimbus another source of income, frees it to focus more attention on its Phase I nonalcoholic steatohepatitis acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) inhibitor program and offers further validation of its novel take on drug discovery.

"Nimbus' unique approach to drug discovery will enhance our research and development programs for immunological disorders," James Sabry, SVP and global head of partnering at Genentech, said in a statement. Genentech is the latest in a growing list of organizations to get excited about Nimbus' platform. Nimbus emerged from stealth mode in 2011 with $24 million from investors including Bill Gates, Atlas Venture and the VC wings of Eli Lilly ($LLY) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). In March, the original investors were joined by Pfizer ($PFE) for a $43 million Series B round. 

Each of the investors has seen potential in Nimbus' use of technology from its co-founding partner and in silico drug discovery pioneer Schrödinger. Nimbus is using the technology to analyze potential targets, perform virtual screening of vast libraries of chemicals and give the resulting lead candidates druglike properties. In the case of ACC, this process allowed Nimbus to go from initial screening to the cusp of the clinic in 16 months, a quick timeline given the long history of frustration associated with the target.

With Genentech powering the IRAK4 program to the clinic and Nimbus advancing its ACC candidate through Phase I, the company is now nearing the point at which it will start to ascertain how well drugs discovered through its in silico processes fare in humans.  

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