Gilead taps Nurix's protein degradation tech in $45M cancer pact

handshake over a desk with computers and someone taking notes
Nurix’s drug discovery platform focuses on manipulating the ubiquitin system, which breaks down damaged or unneeded proteins. (rawpixel)

Gilead Sciences is enlisting Nurix and its drug development technology to create new cancer medicines that break down disease-causing proteins. The Big Pharma is handing over $45 million upfront in a deal that could reach $2.3 billion in value if all milestones are met and royalties realized. 

Nurix’s drug discovery platform focuses on manipulating the ubiquitin system, which breaks down damaged or unneeded proteins. These proteins are tagged with ubiquitin—also a protein—and then sent to a protein complex called a proteasome, where it is degraded. 

The multiyear partnership will see Nurix using its technology to discover new drugs that use E3 ligases—enzymes that control protein levels in human cells—to bring about the degradation of specific protein targets, the duo said in a statement. Gilead will have the option to license programs against up to five targets from the deal, and Nurix could choose to co-develop up to two of those programs in the U.S. In the latter case, the pair will split development costs, profits and losses down the middle. 

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The partners identified cancer and “other challenging diseases” as their target indications. 

“There are many molecular targets involved in disease pathways that have traditionally been challenging to manipulate using conventional approaches,” said Gilead R&D chief and Chief Scientific Officer John McHutchison, A.O., M.D., in the announcement. “Nurix’s innovative protein degradation discovery technology provides Gilead with a new strategy to interrogate these drug targets, as we continue to build a pipeline of small molecule therapeutics for patients with cancers and other diseases.”  

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

“This partnership expands our ability to build our pipeline of novel targeted protein degradation drugs based on our established expertise in the field of protein homeostasis, while we continue to independently advance our lead programs into the clinic,” said Nurix CEO Arthur Sands in the statement. 

The deal comes after several others Gilead has struck this year. Just last week, the company teamed up with AbCellera in an infectious disease antibody pact, and last month it joined forces with kidney specialist Goldfinch Bio to the tune of $109 million. 

Those partnerships follow one potentially worth more than $1 billion with drug discovery player Insitro inked in May and a December deal with Scholar Rock around fibrotic diseases that saw Gilead forking over $80 million upfront but could be worth up to $1.5 billion.

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