Google's stealthy Calico inks an R&D deal for new compounds aimed at neurodegeneration

Google's ($GOOG) stealthy biotech upstart Calico has pulled the covers back from a new deal that will provide a foundation for some of its early R&D work on new drugs to tackle neurodegeneration. The biotech announced today that it has inked its first licensing deal, gaining development rights to protective P7C3 compounds--which had been out-licensed by UT Southwestern earlier to a company called 2M--and plans to set up labs in the Dallas area to support its development program.

In animal studies investigators at UT Southwestern demonstrated that the compounds appeared to guard against Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and depression. 

"New research published today in the journal Cell shows that these drugs activate a cellular enzyme involved in energy metabolism, known as NAMPT (short for nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase), which is critical to the proper functioning and survival of cells," Calico said in a statement. "A separate study published today in Cell Reports shows that the P7C3 compounds protect against brain dysfunction when given to rodents following traumatic injury."

"Over the past decade Andrew Pieper, Joe Ready, and I have worked collaboratively to discover, characterize, and optimize the P7C3 class of neuroprotective chemicals," said Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of the biochemistry department at UT Southwestern. "We are excited to join forces with Art Levinson, whom I have known and admired for over 25 years, and the Calico team to advance our scientific discoveries toward clinical and commercial objectives."

Just days ago Calico announced plans to set up a new research center in the San Francisco Bay Area with AbbVie ($ABBV), with both companies agreeing to invest up to $1.5 billion in a new research center devoted to cancer and neurodegeneration. Google attracted widespread attention when it announced plans for Calico and recruited the legendary Art Levinson, of Genentech fame, to lead the effort. 

Broadly speaking, Calico is focused on diseases related to aging. What's been missing, though, has been any insight into exactly which compounds and targets Calico, Google and now AbbVie have in mind. Today's deal begins to shed some light on the thinking at Calico.

Earlier today investigators reported that the P7C3 drugs have also appeared promising as a therapy for concussion by blocking axon damage and guarding brain cells. The work could also relate to healing stroke damage. Investigators have been tweaking the structure of P7C3 compounds to give it better druglike qualities. Delivered orally, the scientists say that the drug was still working 24 to 36 hours after an injury.

"Seeing protection even when the compound was given this long after injury was important because it represents a liberal window of time within which almost all patients would be expected to be able to access treatment after injury," said Andrew Pieper, the senior researcher at the University of Iowa, according to a statement.

2M now finds itself working with one of the most high-profile upstarts in the industry. It's not well known in biotech, but it's a family business set up by Mort Meyerson, Ross Perot's right-hand man at EDS in the early days and a major figure in the Dallas area. He set up Claria Bioscience in Dallas and later struck the licensing deal for the P7C3 compounds.

- here's the release on the new Calico deal
- here's the release on the latest research work