GERMANY –Boehringer Ingelheim and biotech startup VantAI have entered into an early discovery research collaboration to identify new protein degraders with enhanced properties against traditionally “undruggable” disease targets, the companies announced.

Zachary Carpenter, CEO at VantAI, says “new approaches are needed to overcome long-standing hurdles” that have hindered drug discovery, particularly when it comes to these hard-to-treat targets.

He added that Boehringer Ingelheim’s “deep early discovery experience and [our] unique geometric deep learning technology are well poised in combination to unlock novel solutions with significant advantages for patients.”

Initially, Boehringer Ingelheim and VantAI will concentrate on a single degrader program combined with multiple proprietary E3 ligase platforms.

VantAI’s geometric deep learning technology, in particular, will be used to “computationally streamline” the design of new molecules optimized for each E3 ligase platform, “leveraging unique target-E3 interface contacts to create innovative routes for important drug parameters such as potency and selectivity,” according to the companies.

Boehringer Ingelheim paid VantAI an undisclosed upfront fee, as well as preclinical, clinical, and commercial milestones, as part of the agreement.

Furthermore, Boehringer Ingelheim has exclusive commercial licenses to the degraders developed for the initial target and will be in charge of global development and commercialization.

VantAI announced a multi-year collaboration agreement with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit earlier this month, with the goal of developing novel protein degrader drug candidates for important disease targets, as well as discovering and implementing novel E3 ubiquitin ligase platforms.

Further to that, Autigen, an Ascend BioVentures biotech portfolio company developing novel hearing loss treatments, has signed a research collaboration and license agreement with Boehringer Ingelheim to discover, develop, and commercialize therapies for patients with sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL.

Autigen will receive an undisclosed payment as well as research funding support under the terms of the agreement.

Furthermore, the company will be eligible for future success-based milestone payments totaling more than US$100 million. It is also entitled to royalties on products derived from the collaboration.

Following a phase of joint research collaboration, Boehringer Ingelheim will be in charge of further preclinical and clinical development, as well as commercialization.

This collaboration advances our leadership position in novel therapies for SHNL, an approach that Autigen and our collaborators at the Hough Ear Institute have pioneered,” Autigen President and CEO Dr. Elaine Hamm said.

It marks the first major licensing partnership out of our pharmaceutical accelerator, Ascend BioVentures, and will enable Autigen to advance its novel therapy approach to restore SHNL for patients, who currently have no approved pharmacological or biological treatment options.”

Around 430 million people worldwide suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss, with that figure expected to rise to 700 million by 2050.

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