Genentech, DiCE ally to go after hard-to-drug targets

Genentech Building 35
A Genentech building

Genentech has entered into a multitarget drug discovery deal with DiCE Molecules. The Roche unit is handing over an upfront fee and committing to milestones to apply DiCE’s small molecule platform to targets of interest. 

Neither party has disclosed the numbers attached to the deal, but precedent suggests they will be significant if programs against multiple targets advance. 

When Sanofi entered into a 12-target collaboration with DiCE last year, it committed to pay up to $50 million in equity, upfront and other fees over the five-year duration of the relationship and to hand over up to $184 million per target in research, clinical and regulatory milestones. That put the hypothetical value of the deal up above $2 billion.

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Genentech, like Sanofi before it, has jumped into bed with DiCE to access a platform designed to broaden the range of targets that can be hit with small molecules. 

Initially, DiCE has sought to prove the credentials of the platform by designing small molecules that interrupt protein-protein interfaces. That could lead to small molecules that act on targets that are currently only accessible with antibodies, thereby enabling patients with chronic conditions to switch from inconvenient, costly injections to oral, theoretically cheaper pills.

The platform also has the potential to hit targets considered undruggable, a fact that caught the attention of people at Genentech.

“DiCE’s unique technology naturally complements Genentech’s efforts in small molecule drug discovery and offers the potential to unlock some of the most challenging targets, including those that were once thought to be undruggable,” Genentech SVP James Sabry said in a statement.

RELATED: Sanofi is rolling the DiCE on a small molecule R&D platform

In partnering with Genentech, DiCE CEO Kevin Judice, Ph.D., has returned to territory similar to that he occupied when he started out his career in biotech in the early 1990s. Judice’s employer back then? Genentech. His focus? Disrupting protein-protein interactions.

More importantly, Judice has also kept DiCE on the track he sketched out for the company at the time of the March 2016 Sanofi deal, which also served as the biotech’s coming out party. Back then, Judice said the goal was to bring another partner on board in about 12 months to keep the company’s unconventional funding model ticking. 

With Genentech signing on the dotted line, Judice can tick that item off his to-do list.