Novartis taps Orionis to pursue 'historically elusive targets'

Novartis has entered into a four-year research collaboration with Orionis Biosciences. The agreement tasks Orionis with applying its technologies to “historically elusive targets” in multiple therapeutic areas.

Orionis has been around since 2015 but kept a low profile over most of that time. The transatlantic biotech used its time flying below the radar to establish two platforms, one focused on cytokines and another for “genome-scale drug discovery,” and to use them to generate a pipeline of preclinical assets targeting different phases of the cancer immunity cycle.

Along the way, Orionis caught the attention of Novartis. The resulting talks led to a four-year deal that will see Novartis provide Orionis with research funding, a convertible note investment, potential clinical milestones and royalties. Neither party has disclosed financial details of the deal.

In return, Orionis will use its technologies in the discovery and design of protein degraders and other small-molecule therapeutics. Using the technologies, Orionis thinks it can identify molecules “with high specificity and selectivity against targets at a scale, speed and efficiency that is unique in the industry.”

Perhaps more importantly, Orionis thinks it can go after targets other companies would struggle to drug. There is a lack of publicly available data to validate that belief, but Orionis has persuaded some important people within Novartis that it may be onto something. 

Orionis’ statement to disclose the news featured a comment from Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Bradner talked up Orionis’ technologies “for rapidly identifying and prioritizing new targets at a genome-wide scale” and highlighted hopes that the R&D alliance “will be able to reach historically elusive targets.”

The comments provide a degree of validation to Orionis and the work of the people that have led it through its early years. Orionis was co-founded by former Forma Therapeutics Vice President Nikolai Kley, who serves as its CEO, and VIB-Ghent University professor Jan Tavernier, who holds the chief technology officer post. The pair later recruited Riccardo Sabatini from Human Longevity to handle the data side of the operation.