Black Diamond debuts with $20M, mission to drug unexplored oncogenes

Versant Ventures is unveiling Black Diamond Therapeutics, a biotech developing cancer treatments that target an “undrugged and unexplored” group of oncogenes: allosteric mutant oncogenes. The company is the first to launch out of Ridgeline, Versant’s discovery engine in Basel, Switzerland, and it’s doing so with $20 million from Versant.

Precision medicine treatments typically drug oncogenes by targeting kinase domain mutations, but Black Diamond is looking past these to focus on allosteric mutations. The majority of kinase domain inhibitors bind to the ATP binding site of kinase enzymes, but there is a whole set of other sites called allosteric sites that could be drugged.

“The fundamental discovery underlying Black Diamond is there are whole sets of oncogenic lesions outside the ATP binding site that are activated by common mechanisms and are inhibited by a single class of our drugs,” said Black Diamond founder and CEO David Epstein, Ph.D., in the statement. “Our platform generates single molecules able to treat entire baskets of mutations that otherwise would have been deemed unactionable.”

Epstein, fellow founder Elizabeth Buck, Ph.D., and their team have been quietly working on Black Diamond’s MAP (mutation, allostery and pharmacology) platform that identifies, discovers and targets allosteric mutant oncogenes across different genes and patients. So far, Black Diamond, along with translational work from Ridgeline, has come up with five programs, three of which have moved through lead optimization or into IND-enabling studies. The company has disclosed two programs, which target groups of EGRF and HER2 allosteric mutants.

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Part of its series A cash will go toward setting up a site in Toronto, which will “enable machine learning-based target discovery of new allosteric mutants that complements the existing MAP platform.”

Black Diamond has another financing in the works, to be announced in the new year. The capital is slated to push two to three of its five candidates into the clinic within two years and to “bolster its platform’s ability to rapidly identify precision medicines for mutant cancers intractable to standard care.”