Belharra emerges with $130m and Genentech partnership

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

Belharra Therapeutics claims to be "creating the next wave of drug discover"    Image © Yew! Images / Getty Images
Belharra Therapeutics claims to be "creating the next wave of drug discover" Image © Yew! Images / Getty Images

Related tags start-ups Small molecule Small molecule drugs Investment Genentech Drug discovery

The newly launched biotech is looking to develop small molecule drugs using its photoaffinity-based chemoproteomics platform.

Belharra Therapeutics, named after a rarely breaking wave in the Basque Country, France, emerged with the announcement that it had completed a Series A financing and sealed a collaboration with Genentech.

The biotech raised $50m (€47.5m) through Versant Ventures, a founding investor and also a player in the creation of the biotech, through its Versant ‘Inception Discovery Engine’.

Alongside the funds raised by the Series A financing, Belharra also agreed a multi-year collaboration with Genentech that provides the biotech with $80m in upfront capital.

Drugging the undruggable

Belharra possesses a drug discovery engine that it stated would address the limitations of traditional screening approaches. The platform uses a proprietary library of photoaffinity-based chemical probes that explore protein-ligand interactions within cells.

According to the biotech, this allows it to reveal novel druggable pockets across a range of mechanisms, protein classes and cell types, making it potentially possible to identify therapeutics for previously difficult-to-treat conditions.

Jeff Jonker, CEO of Belharra Therapeutics, said, “Our platform enables us to rapidly rescreen all of the previously ‘undruggable’ protein targets to identify actionable non-covalent drug-like ligands for functional binding pockets.”

The biotech emerged from work that was carried out at Scripps Research. From there, Belharra’s scientists worked alongside scientists at Versant’s Inception Therapeutics to industrialize the technology and build a proprietary library of small molecule photoaffinity probes with drug-like properties.

Belharra stated that it expects to advance internal discovery candidates for both oncology and immunology indications during 2023.

Beginning with a bang

The biotech emerges with a multi-million dollar collaboration already agreed with a major partner, in the form of Genentech.

During the course of the multi-year collaboration, Belharra will be responsible for the discovery and early preclinical development of small molecules against Genentech’s designated targets. For its part, Genentech will handle clinical development from the late-preclinical stages to the clinic and then onto commercialization.

The collaboration begins with an $80m payment to Belharra, but development, commercial, and net sales milestones could take this beyond $2bn.

On the development of certain oncology or immunology programs, Belharra will also have the option to co-develop compounds through to Phase I and to co-fund the remaining development of those programs. In return, it will receive a US cost/profit split and ex-US milestone payments and royalties.

James Sabry, global head of pharma partnering at Roche, the parent company of Genentech, explained that the partnership would allow the big pharma company to ‘interrogate’ therapeutic pathways and targets that “we strongly believe drive disease pathogenesis, but have proven to be inaccessible to conventional approaches.”

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