Massachusetts-based Kymera has emerged as a leading player in a new field known as “protein degradation,” which is driven by the notion that diseases can be conquered by boosting the body’s innate ability to dispose of the proteins that cause them. On Thursday, the company will roll out new preclinical data on one of the protein-degradation drugs in its pipeline, KYM-001, which it’s developing to treat a particularly aggressive subset of B-cell lymphoma.
KYM-001 is an oral drug that targets IRAK4, a protein that’s a key player in lymphomas that are driven by a mutation in the gene MYD88. In mouse models of lymphomas with the mutation, the drug prompted a 75% reduction in IRAK4 levels and tumor regression, according to a statement from the company.
Kymera is also investigating the potential for combining KYM-001 with Imbruvica, AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s BTK inhibitor. That combination also caused tumors to shrink in the mouse models, the company said. Kymera is presenting the data at the International Conference on Malignant Lymphoma in Lugano, Switzerland.
"We are highly encouraged by the data, which strongly supports clinical advancement of our orally active IRAK4 protein degraders in MYD88-driven B cell malignancies, both as monotherapy and in combination with drugs targeting complementary pathways," said Jared Gollob, M.D., chief medical officer of Kymera, in the statement.
Kymera got off the ground in 2017 with a $30 million series A funding round that included contributions from Amgen and Eli Lilly. Several other biopharma giants have since jumped on the protein-degradation bandwagon, including GlaxoSmithKline, which penned a collaboration deal with Kymera in April of last year.
Then, last November, Kymera picked up another $65 million in a series B round, adding Pfizer Ventures and Sanofi Ventures to its growing list of pharma-associated backers.
Now Vertex is turning to Kymera for its expertise in protein degradation. In May, Vertex shelled out $70 million to enter a four-year research pact with the Cambridge startup. Even though Kymera has focused its internal R&D efforts on cancer, protein degradation could play a role in other disorders, including the inflammatory and fibrotic diseases that are of interest to Vertex.
KYM-001 is Kymera’s most advanced product candidate. The drug was designed to cripple IRAK4, thus disrupting a tumor-promoting pathway called Myddosome signaling. The company estimates that mutations in MYD88 drive as many as 40% of diffuse large B-cell lymphomas, and that the mutated gene is an even bigger player in rare lymphomas such as Waldenström macroglobulinemia.