Nimbus in full-on drug development partnership with Charles River

Computational drug discovery firm Nimbus Therapeutics has reached a multiyear partnership with Charles River Laboratories to advance programs across the biotech’s therapeutic areas of expertise.

Researchers from both companies will be working on a selective number of key drug development programs in immunology, metabolic disorders and oncology from the early discovery phase all the way through to IND submission.

The two based this new comprehensive collaboration on the previous more than five years’ CRO-client fee-for-service relationship, Nimbus’ CEO Don Nicholson told FierceCRO in an emailed interview.

Nimbus is itself a drug discovery company, known for its computational chemistry capabilities with exclusive technological support from chemical simulation software expert Schrödinger. It is fully capable of moving programs from scratch through clinical development. Then what is it expecting from Charles River?

“We have been impressed by the collection of discovery expertise that CRL has assembled, which can be complementary to what we at Nimbus bring,” he said.

To be specific, Charles River will be contributing its expertise from initial hit identification through the process of discovery optimization, including medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, and eventually, into safety testing and IND submission. In return, the CRO will receive potential milestone payments from Nimbus, although the exact number is not shared.

“Given the variable nature of drug discovery and development, there is not a specific term that will define this new chapter in our relationship, other than it will clearly be ‘multiyear,’” Nicholson said.

Nimbus’ practice in the past has been to navigate programs through “stage-dependent” partnerships, Nicholson said, but the new relationship with Charles River will be centered on programs. “Sticking with Nimbus’ distributed model of discovery and development, the work will primarily be done in CRL’s labs, supplemented as needed by world-class academic partnerships bespoke for each program,” he said.

A young biotech, Nimbus does not plan to be solely focused on early drug discovery, “and that is not our strategic intent either,” Nicholson stressed.

Last year, Gilead bought Nimbus Apollo, a then-subsidiary of Nimbus Therapeutics, together with a phase 1 NASH drug from the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech with $400 million upfront and another $800 million promised in milestones.

Nicholson said that acquisition came as a surprise as the company was at that time about to enter phase 2 with the program, fully intended to take that product up through registration, and had all the skills and resources in place to do it.

“We have been fortunate due to our unique private company LLC structure that Gilead could acquire just the program they wanted without buying the whole company,” said Nicholson. “Instead, we have kept Nimbus intact and are now in the process of expanding our pipeline and moving it toward the clinic.”

The company also signed a deal with Genentech in 2015, which saw the Roche’s subsidiary acquired development rights to an interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase 4 (IRAK4) inhibitor. Several other programs are currently in discovery or preclinical phases.