Californian biotechs Forge Therapeutics and Active Motif sign epigenetics research deal

The metalloproteins specialist Forge Therapeutics and Active Motif, which develops tools to help "turn off" certain genes, have penned a new deal in epigenetic research.

The two biotech companies--both based in California--said in a statement they aim to validate emerging epigenetic targets in cancer and demonstrate the drugability of the family of iron-containing lysine demethylases known as Jumonji KDMs.

The research collaboration--financial details of which were not disclosed--will combine Forge's expertise in the field of metalloenzymes and Active Motif's experience in epigenetics and related technologies.

"Other epigenetic targets such as histone deacetylases and methyl transferases have been validated therapeutically, however the Jumonji KDM family has been lagging behind due to a lack of suitable chemistry and limited biological tools available to early-stage companies," said Zachary Zimmerman, CEO of Forge Therapeutics.

"The Forge drug discovery engine has generated several full length inhibitors that are selective and potent for individual KDMs and subfamilies of KDMs, and we look forward to probing epigenetic biology using Active Motif's suite of technologies."

Cancer, autoimmune and neurological disorders can all be caused by abnormal epigenetic activity and may be helped by "turning off" related genes that are causing a disease.

In fact, some companies are already doing this, with Celgene ($CELG) leading the way with its blood cancer drug Vidaza and T-cell lymphoma treatment Istodax. And just last week Google's funding arm GV also backed a new Cambridge epigenetics spinoff in a $21 million funding round.

Historically, methylation of Arg and Lys residues has been considered a stable, irreversible process due to the slow turnover of methyl groups in chromatin. But the discovery in recent years of a large number of histone Lys demethylases (i.e., KDMs, belonging to either the amino oxidase or the JmjC family) completely changed this point of view and suggested a new role for dynamic histone methylation in biological processes.

Since overexpression, alteration, or mutation of a number of KDMs has been found in many types of cancers, such enzymes could represent diagnostic tools as well as epigenetic targets to modulate for obtaining novel therapeutic weapons against cancer.

A recent report by Citigroup estimates that the epigenetic oncology market could be worth around $10 billion a year by 2025.

Joseph Fernandez, CEO of Active Motif, added: "Active Motif's expertise in epigenetic research tools and complex epigenetic analysis combined with the prowess of Forge Therapeutics to quickly generate compounds that specifically inhibit epigenetic modifying proteins positions this collaboration to become a preeminent epigenetic drug discovery effort. This cutting-edge research aims to help advance novel therapeutics for oncology indications."

- see the release