Genentech co-signs Nimbus' computer-aided R&D with an oncology pact

Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech is buying into Nimbus Therapeutics and its computer-driven approach to designing new drugs, partnering up on one of the company's programs in oncology and inflammation.

Under the agreement, Genentech is paying an undisclosed upfront sum in exchange for development rights to some early-stage treatments that modulate the immune system to treat disease, promising future payments based on clinical milestones. The in-licensed drugs focus on interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase 4, or IRAK4, which is a signaling kinase that helps govern immune responses.

Blocking IRAK4, as Nimbus' candidates are designed to do, has shown potential as a treatment for certain B-cell malignancies, the company said. And the pathway also plays a role in inflammatory disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriasis, Nimbus said.

With Genentech in tow, Nimbus' IRAK4 candidates are now moving toward human trials, the partners said, with the larger company in charge of all preclinical and clinical development.

For Nimbus, a company that came out of stealth with an investment from Bill Gates in 2011, Genentech's interest marks a major validation of its drug discovery platform, which relies on computer modeling to vet potential leads. The biotech launched in 2009 with the help of Schrödinger, a company focused on computational chemistry, and has since focused on integrating simulation software with its more traditional lab work in hopes of more quickly spotlighting promising therapies.

Nimbus, a 2013 Fierce 15 honoree, raised $43 million in a March Series B round, with Pfizer ($PFE) Ventures leading the way alongside returning financiers Gates, Atlas Venture, SR One and Lilly Ventures.

The biotech's lead candidate is a treatment for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, which is a common liver disease that has no approved treatments. Nimbus' drug, designed to interrupt the synthesis of fatty acids, entered human trials in April with Phase II scheduled to begin early next year, the company said.

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