Pepper Bio spices up pipeline with $135M deal for G1 Therapeutics' CDK4/6 inhibitor

With $6.5 million in seed funding, Pepper Bio has decided to shake up its portfolio by acquiring a CDK4/6 inhibitor from G1 Therapeutics.

G1 and its Chinese partner Genor Biopharma have previously touted the potential of the drug, called lerociclib, to become a “best-in-class CDK4/6 drug candidate” in the wake of phase 3 trials for HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer. But in its May 1 release, Pepper focused on the most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Pepper has used its own transomics platform, dubbed COMPASS, to identify CDK4 and CDK6 as “potentially important targets” in treating HCC, the biotech explained. Preclinical testing backed up the hypothesis that lerociclib could work on this type of cancer, leading Pepper to seal today’s deal ahead of entering the drug into phase 2 trials.

Pepper was hazy on the exact financials but will G1 upfront payments “totaling mid-single-digit millions within 12 months.” Beyond that, G1 is also in line for potentially up to $135 million in development and commercial milestones across up to three indications.

In return, Pepper will gain the license to lerociclib for all indications “except for certain radioprotectant uses” in the U.S., Europe, Japan and all other global markets aside from the Asia-Pacific region where Genor already has the rights.

Pepper can afford the upfront fee thanks in part to a $6.5 million seed round in December 2023 that was led by NFX and featured Merck Digital Sciences Studio.

“Liver cancer is a real and devastating diagnosis for hundreds of thousands of patients each year,” Pepper’s CEO Jon Hu said in the release.

“Adding lerociclib into our pipeline is a significant step forward in our mission to find treatments for untreatable diseases,” Hu added. “Lerociclib holds tremendous promise as a cornerstone of our oncology portfolio, and we are excited to leverage its potential to bring life-saving treatments to those in need.”

Pepper was founded in 2020 through a Merck & Co.-run accelerator program to leverage a multiomics approach—which it refers to as transomics—as a way of identifying new drugs or to repurpose existing or cast-off ones.