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Google backs $65M investment in precision medicine startup for cancer and genetic disorders

Vicinitas Therapeutics
Image credits: Vicinitas Therapeutics

Vicinitas Therapeutics, a San Francisco-based biotechnology company focused on targeted protein stabilizers known as Deubiquituinase Targeting Chimeras (DUBTACs), has secured $65M in a Series A round. 

The round was co-led by a16z and Deerfield Management, with participation from Droia Ventures, GV (Google Venture), The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, and the Berkeley Catalyst Fund. 

Vicinitas Therapeutics is a spin-out company that resulted from the Deubiquitinase Targeting Chimera (DUBTAC) platform, which was developed through an academic-industry research collaboration between the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

What does Vicinitas Therapeutics solve?

In general, many diseases, including cancer and monogenic diseases, are often caused by specific proteins that are abnormally degraded and lost from the cell. For example, protective tumor suppressors are destroyed in cancer, allowing cancer cells to circumvent cell death, thus promoting unobstructed cell proliferation. 

In monogenic disorders, mutations in specific genes cause the resulting protein to become unstable and degraded, which leads to abnormally low levels of the particular protein and the disease pathology. 

Many aberrantly degraded proteins have been considered “undruggable” or intractable to drug discovery efforts. Here’s where the company’s targeted protein stabilizers come into play. 

How does it work?

Founded by Daniel K. Nomura, the company has developed the DUBTAC platform to therapeutically target these degraded proteins by removing ubiquitin chains (tags on proteins that signal the cell to degrade and eliminate the protein using the cell’s protein disposal system) from specific proteins to stop their degradation and stabilize their levels for therapeutic benefit. 

“We are excited about the potential of the DUBTAC platform to develop novel therapies against therapeutic targets that were previously deemed undruggable and will respond to protein stabilization,” says Daniel K. Nomura, Ph.D., founder of Vicinitas Therapeutics and Professor of Chemical Biology in the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley.

Therapies for cancer and monogenic diseases

The company has licensed the DUBTAC platform from UC Berkeley and Novartis. It aims to become the leading company in targeted protein stabilization by developing next-generation disease therapies against an entire class of previously inaccessible, aberrantly degraded proteins. 

Currently, the company is focused on developing therapies for cancer and monogenic diseases.

“The concept of chemically induced proximity – using multispecific molecules to bring two targets physically together – has yielded notable successes in the field of protein degradation,” said Jorge Conde, General Partner at a16z. “Vicinitas is leveraging its proprietary DUBTAC platform to pioneer the emerging space of targeted protein stabilization. This approach has the potential to access highly valued yet currently undruggable proteins and create differentiated therapies that will impact patient lives.”

“Vicinitas Therapeutics has emerged as a pioneer of targeted protein stabilization, and we’re excited to be a part of the Series A funding,” said Cameron Wheeler, Ph.D., Partner at Deerfield Management. “As a therapeutic modality, stabilization has the power to elicit substantial changes to disease biology with relatively minor alterations to target proteins, and we are optimistic about the potential of the DUBTAC platform across oncology, rare and chronic diseases.”

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