The Bradner factor: Roche bags a BET inhibitor in $535M Tensha buyout

Jay Bradner

Jay Bradner strikes again. 

Last week, as the star Dana-Farber investigator was transitioning into the lead role at the Novartis Institutes of BioMedical Research, investors were unveiling a $73 million startup complete with $750 million deal to pursue Bradner's preclinical work in developing protein degraders to fight cancer. Today, Roche ($RHHBY) is coming back to grab Tensha Therapeutics--a virtual biotech in the HealthCare Ventures stable that has an early-stage clinical program underway for Bradner's BET (bromodomain) inhibitor--in a $535 million buyout.

Roche's Basel-based pRED group--led by John Reed--has cut a deal for the rights to the cancer drug, handing over $115 million in cash along with committing to $420 million in milestones for a successful development effort.

"We have two Phase I programs," says Tensha CEO and HealthCare Ventures partner Doug Onsi, "one for solid tumors and the other for hematological malignancies. Roche will continue those studies."

The deal is a coup for HealthCare Ventures, the investment group which set up Cambridge, MA-based Tensha in its portfolio of development projects, run by a crew of in-house developers in charge of a variety of development efforts. This is a low-overhead R&D model open to early deals and followed by a variety of venture groups, including Jay Lichter's Avalon in San Diego.

In this case, Roche was lured to an unusual BET inhibition technology program. While the Tensha molecule stayed in-house, Bradner put out a "probe" BET molecule called JQ1 for open-source research.

"The probe molecule was made available to over 500 labs around the world," says Onsi. "It generated unbelievable amounts of scientific data," which has helped Tensha. "We embraced the open source strategy along with (Bradner)."

In an interview for The Broad, Bradner noted the impact the JQ1 project has had on the field.

"In the area of BET bromodomains," Bradner told The Broad last May, as he was earning credit for his landmark work on protein degradation, "we have observed a doubling of scholarly publications coincident with the availability of the JQ1 chemical probe, a phenomenon that has been previously described with kinase inhibitors and the patent literature. Last year, four molecules transitioned to human clinical investigation, including our own drug-like derivative. This year, we expect four more companies to enter clinical trials. For my lab, open-source drug discovery has been an expensive, but eye-opening undertaking."

- here's the release