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Biotech Licenses Precision Cancer Biologic to Genentech

DNA illustration

(Nogas1974, Wikimedia Commons)

14 Dec. 2020. A biotechnology company discovering synthetic proteins that target cancer-causing genetic mutations is licensing its lead product to biologics maker Genentech. The deal with Genentech, a subsidiary of drug maker Roche in South San Francisco, is expected to earn Relay Therapeutics Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts $100 million in the near term, with the potential for several times that amount later on.

Relay Therapeutics discovers therapies for diseases considered difficult to treat, using methods based on protein movement and dynamics. Most conventional research, says the company, treats proteins as static entities, but Relay’s technology, called Dynamo, discovers drugs by analyzing the dynamics of proteins, which combines the structure of protein molecules, with chemistry, biophysics, and computational techniques.

The company applies the Dynamo technology to precision cancer treatments addressing specific molecular targets, rather than cancers found in specific organs or tissue. Its lead candidate, code-named RLY-1971, binds to and stabilizes SHP2 proteins that drive proliferation of cancer cells and support resistance to targeted therapies. Relay believes RLY-1971 can block the route some cancers use to avoid other cancer treatments, thus overcome resistance by some cancers to therapy.

RLY-1971 is currently in an early-stage clinical trial testing the drug for safety and to determine a maximum tolerated dose, among participants with advanced or metastatic solid tumor cancers. The trial excludes patients with tumor mutations that may not be amenable to RLY-1971 therapy.

Genentech is seeking RLY-1971 to combine with its own precision cancer biologic code-named GDC-6036, also in an early-stage clinical trial. GDC-6036 targets KRAS-G12C mutations, also in solid tumor cancers. The KRAS gene codes for proteins causing cells to proliferate, mature, and die. When it mutates, KRAS pathways are associated with some types of non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

“RLY-1971 has the potential to serve as a backbone for combination therapy across numerous solid tumors and therefore represents an encouraging approach for cancer patients,” says Sanjiv Patel, president and CEO of Relay Therapeutics in a company statement. James Sabry, head of pharma parterning at Roche adds that “we believe that the combination of KRAS G12C and SHP2 inhibitors together represents a promising approach that we hope could become a new treatment option for patients with KRAS G12C mutant tumors.”

Under the collaboration and licensing deal, Genentech is responsible for further development of RLY-1971, leading to combination studies with GDC-6036. Relay Therapeutics is receiving an immediate payment of $75 million from Genentech, with another $25 million expected in near-term payments.

After that point, Relay Therapeutics can opt-in to a 50/50 cost and profit sharing deal with Genentech on RLY-1971. If Relay chooses that option, the company will also be eligible for another $410 million in commercialization and sales-related milestone payments, as well as royalties on sales of products from the collaboration outside the U.S., as well as its 50 percent share of profits. If Relay chooses not to opt-in to cost and profit-sharing, the company will be eligible for $695 million development, commercialization, and sales milestone payments, as well as royalties on global net sales.

Relay Therapeutics is a four year-old enterprise, based on research on protein dynamics at four university and industry labs. Science & Enterprise reported on the company’s launch in 2016, subsequent venture funding, and initial public offering in July 2020.

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