Celgene gambles $50M on Abide and its R&D work on enzyme 'superfamily'

Celgene's roving band of dealmakers has selected San Diego-based Abide Therapeutics for its latest option package, taking an equity stake in the biotech as it settles into a front row seat on its progress regarding a broad R&D front and gaining first dibs on Abide's lead program.

Abide got started with insights from a pair of prominent Scripps investigators on a large 'superfamily' of enzymes called serine hydrolases. Last May the biotech inked a $430 million diabetes/metabolics deal with Merck ($MRK). Today it's announced that it is getting a $50 million upfront, a slate of unspecified milestones and a "small" equity investment as Celgene ($CELG)--focused on immunology and inflammation in this deal--positions itself with an option on the first two drugs to reach the clinic. In addition, Cardinal Investments is adding a $10 million venture investment in the company.

The deal fits squarely into Celgene's sweet spot on the deal front. Deal chief George Golumbeski has been adamant about his preference for options, willing to invest significantly to position the fast-growing biotech as it scouts for a new generation of drugs to put into the clinic. In this case Celgene will be a close observer as Abide sets out to prove that it has the technology needed to target a common catalytic of serine hydrolases, which it believes will provide a key to CNS signaling, digestion, metabolism, inflammation, blood clotting and the life cycle of viruses and pathogens.The deal with Celgene includes a collaboration on AB101131, a lead preclinical program slated to begin human studies next year. And Abide CEO Alan Ezekowitz says that they expect to add another three or four programs to the package with Celgene.

Abide Therapeutics CEO Alan Ezekowitz

"It's a really creative deal," an excited Ezekowitz tells FierceBiotech. "It maximizes the opportunity to develop the drug discovery platform. All the incentives are aligned" to assist the company in "validating the excellence of our product engine."

Abide now has 15 staffers and 10 dedicated chemists working on that engine, with the home office in San Diego and a satellite group in Princeton, NJ, where major restructuring on the Big Pharma side has created a pool of highly skilled workers for clinical development. The deal with Celgene, building on the metabolics work with Merck, will give Abide a chance to add more staffers to the mix.

"This collaboration with Abide illustrates our ongoing commitment to enable potentially disruptive technologies in the hands of talented drug hunters, here deployed in unique and powerful approach to target a validated but largely underexplored class of serine hydrolases," said Tom Daniel, Celgene's R&D chief, in a statement. "We are enthusiastic about the team, the technology, and the potential to create landmark therapies."

- here's the release