Arvinas CEO Manny Litchman

Forget about protein inhibition. This biotech wants to take some key proteins out of the picture entirely

CEO: Manny Litchman
Based: New Haven, CT
Founded: 2013
Clinical focus: Protein degradation
Company website

The scoop: Protein inhibition is a well-understood science, with known limitations. Arvinas is all about breaking down the barriers to protein inhibition through new technology that promises to create new drugs that can degrade proteins instead of just blocking them, opening up a whole new range of once undruggable targets and addressing a major problem in drug resistance. It's no wonder some big names in Big Pharma have come calling. Since the company's launch in 2013 it has lined up a Big Pharma pact with Merck ($MRK) and it's in the process of building a pipeline of its own.

What makes Arvinas Fierce: Big things are afoot at Arvinas, which has been pursuing new strategic collaborations as it continues to build the financial foundation for a company with some first-in-class R&D goals in mind.

"There's huge interest in this area," says company Chairman Tim Shannon, who got the ball rolling as a partner at Canaan. "We've had a lot of outreach and we expect more."

Back in the spring, Merck came in with a $434 million deal that gives it access to Arvinas' proteolysis-targeting chimera, or PROTAC, platform. Merck, which has been picking up the pace in R&D as it looks beyond its big PD-1 campaign, gave Arvinas the kind of Big Pharma validation that fledgling companies love. Merck has two targets in mind, which Arvinas can't identify at this stage. In the meantime, the Merck tie-up has allowed the company to bring on new staff, with the team now at 28 with plans to grow into the middle or upper 30s next year.

Arvinas has the kind of scientific pedigree that the industry thrives on as well. Shannon was ready to buy in to Yale researcher Craig Crews' idea within a few seconds of hearing him explain it. Canaan along with 5AM Ventures put up $15 million in 2013 to get the company launched, with an additional $4.25 million coming in from Connecticut's state agencies interested in rebuilding the state's biopharma base.

Arvinas also recruited Novartis vet Manny Litchman to take the helm, adding yet another biotech convert from the Big Pharma world. Litchman had previously headed up Novartis' ($NVS) lead collaboration program with Penn's CAR-T experts, one of the top efforts in the industry.

Investors: Canaan Partners, 5AM Ventures, Connecticut Innovations and Elm Street Ventures

For more:
Merck wagers $434M on Arvinas and its protein-disposal system
Yale biotech spinout launches with $18M and a new approach to cancer

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)