Roche is teaming up with a young biotechnology company to develop medicines that break down proteins tied to certain cancers and neurological diseases.
Announced Tuesday, the partnership between Roche and Monte Rosa Therapeutics carries a $50 million upfront payment. The Boston-based Monte Rosa could receive $2 billion more, provided its drug programs hit specific research, commercial and sales milestones.
Established in 2018, Monte Rosa specializes in “molecular glue degraders” — a relatively new type of medicine that, in effect, grabs harmful proteins and forces them down a cell’s garbage chute. The company came out of stealth in mid-2020, announcing $32.5 million in funding from its original investors Versant Ventures and New Enterprise Associates. A year later, it raised $222 million through an initial public offering.
Monte Rosa’s research programs target a range of illnesses, from genetic disorders to inflammatory diseases to cancer. The company’s most advanced drug, named MRT-2359, entered human testing about a year ago. An early-stage clinical trial is currently evaluating its safety, tolerability and activity in a selection of cancers, including lung, neuroendocrine and diffuse large B cell lymphoma, that had been previously treated. (Early data from that trial were disclosed Tuesday, sending shares down by double digits.)
Now, the partnership with Roche will “enable and accelerate expansion of our platform into neuroscience and additional areas of oncology,” said Markus Warmuth, Monte Rosa’s CEO, in a statement.
“We believe that molecular glue degraders are a powerful new class of small molecules that target disease-related proteins that traditional approaches have been unable to address,” added James Sabry, Roche’s global head of pharma partnering.
The deal has Monte Rosa leading discovery and preclinical activities against multiple cancer and neurological disease targets, up until a “defined point.” Roche then gains the right to exclusively pursue further development of the compounds.
Additionally, both companies have agreed to a deal term that would allow them to expand their collaboration within its first two years. Should they choose to, Roche would owe Monte Rosa further payments. The biotech noted that it still retains full ownership of its pipeline programs.
Tuesday’s announcement comes about a month Roche’s Genentech subsidiary inked a similar deal, agreeing to pay Orionis Biosciences $47 million upfront in a research collaboration focused on developing molecule glue degraders for cancer and neurodegenerative conditions.
Molecular glue research has attracted interest from other large pharmaceutical companies as well. Merck & Co., for instance, has twice in the past two years linked up with the Austrian biotech Proxygen. And last October, Bristol Myers Squibb said it was working with a San Francisco-based biotech called SyntheX to discover molecular glue degraders. SyntheX received cash and investment up front, and could take home more than half a billion dollars more if it achieves certain performance-based milestones.
Sanofi, Astellas and Incyte have also bet on targeted protein degradation by partnering with a wave of smaller biotechs that have dedicated themselves to this research.