Ubiquigent DUB inhibitor pact survives Bristol-Celgene merger

outside of building
Bristol Myers Squibb sees potential to get at undruggable targets via the ubiquitin-proteasome system. (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Bristol Myers Squibb is continuing a drug discovery collaboration with Ubiquigent that it inherited in its merger with Celgene. The Big Pharma recently scrapped an alliance with Jounce Therapeutics that was formed by Celgene but is sticking with deubiquitinase (DUB) enzyme specialist Ubiquigent.

Celgene’s business was built around some of the areas in which Ubiquigent specializes. Thalidomide, Pomalyst and Revlimid—key drugs in Celgene’s product portfolio—all act on E3 ubiquitin ligases, a group of proteins involved in protein degradation. Celgene also struck protein degradation deals with Evotec, Nurix and Vividion Therapeutics in the years leading up to its merger with Bristol Myers.

In exploring the area, Celgene also entered into a drug discovery collaboration with Ubiquigent, a Scottish biotech that seeks to drive protein degradation through molecules that act on the ubiquitin system. Ubiquigent’s capabilities have landed it deals with companies including Forma Therapeutics.

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Bristol Myers has less of a legacy in the field than Celgene does, but it appears to have decided to build on the experience it acquired in the takeover. Ubiquigent’s statement about the continuation of the deal it signed with Celgene follows comments by Bristol Myers about the potential to get at undruggable targets via the ubiquitin-proteasome system.

“We’ve realized we can degrade hundreds of previously unrecognized proteins, and this number is the tip of the iceberg. There is potentially the ability to target perhaps thousands of protein targets. We’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to understanding how many proteins we can target, and our job now is to figure out which have therapeutic utility,” Bristol Myers Senior Vice President Mark Rolfe said in a statement.

Bristol Myers published the comments made by Rolfe, who joined the company in the Celgene deal, weeks before releasing a Q&A with Josh Hansen about protein homeostasis. Hansen, who like Rolfe worked at a West Coast site Bristol Myers acquired from Celgene, cited solid tumors and immune diseases as conditions potentially amenable to treatment through protein degradation.

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