Nimbus bags $43M from Big Pharma VCs to test computer-designed drugs

Nimbus CEO Don Nicholson

Nimbus Therapeutics is ready to see how the compounds it discovered with the help of Schrödinger's computational chemistry tools fare in the clinic. And the VC units of Eli Lilly ($LLY), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer ($PFE) want to find out, too, prompting each to chip in to Nimbus' $43 million Series B round.

The cash will provide the financial fuel Nimbus needs as it tries to evolve from being a research-stage biotech known for its innovative tools and business model into a clinical-phase player with a pipeline of hotly tipped assets. An acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) inhibitor is at the forefront of this attempted transition and is a good example of how Nimbus has differentiated itself using IT. ACC has frustrated many a drug discovery team, in part because it has a fundamentally tricky target binding site. Knowing this, Nimbus cast its virtual drug screening net beyond the typical compound libraries.

Having scoured millions of compounds using tens of thousands of processors--and tested the most promising leads in a wet lab--Nimbus settled on a candidate it thinks can inhibit ACC. The process from initial screening, through design and optimization to selection of a candidate for preclinical tests took 16 months, the sort of timeline that can turn the heads of Big Pharma companies. Now, Nimbus is on the cusp of discovering if its computer-enabled process has yielded candidates that really work in humans.

The ACC inhibitor will be the first Nimbus-discovered drug to enter the clinic, initially as a potential treatment for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH has proven to be catnip to investors, who have flocked to Intercept Pharmaceuticals ($ICPT), Genfit and other companies targeting the indication. Nimbus is trailing these programs but thinks the drug that has emerged from its high tech process may have an edge over its rivals.

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