Gilead buys EpiTherapeutics to access Danish epigenetics expertise

Gilead Sciences ($GILD) has moved into epigenetic research by acquiring EpiTherapeutics for $65 million (€57 million) in cash. The deal gives it access to science originated at a team headed by Kristian Helin, a lauded oncology epigenetics expert and founder of Denmark's Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC).

Kristian Helin

Copenhagen, Denmark-based EpiTherapeutics set up shop in 2008 to translate research done by Helin at BRIC into a pipeline of oncology candidates. Helin's reputation helped EpiTherapeutics to snag a ream of big-name backers and a collaboration with Abbott ($ABT) within two years of opening its doors. Novo Seeds, Lundbeckfond Ventures, Merck Serono Ventures, OSI Pharmaceuticals and SEED Capital sit on the list of investors that have financed EpiTherapeutics' progress to date. The Gilead deal means SEED Capital has exited 5 companies in the past year.

EpiTherapeutics last raised cash 13 months ago, at which time the extension of a Series A round took its total haul to around €25 million. The money has moved EpiTherapeutics to the cusp of the clinic. In September, EpiTherapeutics hired Dr. Ivan Melezínek--who lists stints at AstraZeneca ($AZN), Roche ($RHHBY) and Merck ($MRK), plus Tarceva R&D programs, on his résumé--as chief medical officer in response to its pipeline progress. Details of exactly where EpiTherapeutics is focusing its attention--and what prompted Gilead to strike the deal--are sketchy, though.

The identification of epigenetic regulators involved in cancer is a cornerstone of the work done by Helsin's group at BRIC. This involves the study of histone demethylases and methyltransferases, both of which are central to EpiTherapeutics' drug discovery program. The Danish biotech has spent the past 7 years identifying epigenetic oncology targets and designing small molecules with the potential to inhibit them. Now, with Gilead bankrolling the science, the programs are set to continue their march toward the clinic.

- read the Gilead release
- here's SEED Capital's news