Vertex pays Kymera $70M upfront to discover protein degradation drugs

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is paying $70 million upfront to work with Kymera Therapeutics on the discovery of drugs that drive the elimination of disease-causing proteins. The early-stage deal features more than $1 billion in milestones tied to the success of six programs.

Massachusetts-based Kymera is one of a clutch of biotechs seeking to expand the pool of druggable proteins by harnessing the body’s own process for dealing with unwanted molecules. At Kymera, that focus has manifested in a pipeline of small molecules led by a drug designed to treat cancer through the targeted-degradation of IRAK4, a protein involved in disease signaling pathways.

Kymera established itself as a notable player in the emerging protein degradation field through series A and B rounds that raised $95 million from backers including the venture capital wings of Amgen, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Sanofi. 

Now, Kymera has added Vertex to its list of investors. Vertex is giving Kymera $70 million in the form of an upfront deal fee and equity investment to enter into a four-year research and development collaboration spanning multiple targets involved in “serious diseases.”

Kymera has angled its internal pipeline toward oncology, but its platform is potentially applicable to a wide range of serious diseases involving drivers such as inflammation and fibrosis, providing points of overlap with Vertex’s activities. 

“This collaboration with Kymera will enhance our drug discovery capabilities and support our strategy of investing in scientific innovation to develop transformative medicines for serious diseases,” Vertex Senior Vice President Mark Bunnage said in a statement. “We’ve been impressed by the Kymera team’s depth of knowledge in the field and compelling technology platform.”

Kymera will perform the research activities on the targets. Once a clinical development candidate is selected, Vertex will have the option to exclusively license the program, putting it on the hook for a package of milestones that could total more than $1 billion across six targets.