Deerfield sets up $80M to pursue protein degradation R&D at new Dana-Farber center

The project aims to build a small molecule platform to harness the body's processes that break down and recycle harmful or damaged proteins. (Dana-Farber)

Deerfield Management is committing up to $80 million to fund the creation of a new Center for Protein Degradation at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, with its sights on exploring a portfolio of targets in the field.

The end goals of the project include building a new small-molecule therapy platform that can direct and drive protein degradation by the proteasome, harnessing the complexes that break down and clear damaged or harmful proteins from the cell.

The center will be led by Nathanael Gray and Eric Fischer, two laboratory leaders at Dana-Farber, while Deerfield will provide operational and management support. Additional funding for therapeutic targets will be provided following proof-of-concept studies.

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Researchers at Dana-Farber believe the protein degradation approach may provide a more robust therapeutic effect by eliminating protein function, compared to traditional small-molecule inhibitors that may target catalytic activities.

Gray previously helped build a technology platform for rapidly removing almost any desired protein from the cells of living mice, in as little as one hour, so that scientists can quickly assess the effects of the protein’s absence. Gray served as corresponding author on the project, along with James Bradner, formerly of Dana-Farber and now president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

The researchers also used the system to degrade mutant forms of the KRAS cancer protein in mouse cells, the institute said, and altered the downstream cancer-related activity of pathways controlled by KRAS.

RELATED: Cedilla Therapeutics launches with $56M to target protein degradation in cancer

The center plans to seek collaborations within the Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School spheres to explore degradation concepts in a wide range of targets and diseases, and then move them through proof-of-concept and preclinical validation studies towards clinical development.

“This new Center for Protein Degradation will be a critical focal point in a vibrant community of accomplished scientists and investigators,” said Dana-Farber President and CEO Laurie Glimcher.

Glimcher also serves as one of the scientific co-founders of Quentis Therapeutics, one of this year’s Fierce 15, which is exploring the cellular stress pathways that form part of the unfolded protein response—the processes that either clear out and recycle malformed proteins from the cell or trigger cell death—and their effects in the broader tumor microenvironment.

“Protein degradation is potentially a key to unlocking cures for cancer,” said Deerfield partner William Slattery. “The examination of targets with this expertise will create a pathway that goes beyond the normal confines of drug development.”

RELATED: Kymera nets $60M to move lead protein degrader into the clinic

Meanwhile, across town in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Kymera Therapeutics announced Tuesday that it raised $65 million to push its lead, oncology-focused protein degradation program into the clinic. The series B round follows a research platform collaboration launched with GlaxoSmithKline earlier this year, aimed at a limited number of targets.

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