SK invests $200M in Roivant Sciences to discover drugs
SK Holdings announced a strategic $200 million investment in Roivant Sciences to develop technology to discover drugs to treat cancer and other incurable diseases, the companies said Monday.
In the past few years, SK Group has put a special focus on investing in bio pharmaceuticals. The partnership with Roivant is its biggest investment in developing new drugs.
Established in 2014, Roivant Sciences develops technology to discover drug candidates using data and artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The company received a $1.1 billion investment from SoftBank Ventures in 2017, which at the time was the single largest investment in bio start-up history. The company is currently developing 20 drug candidates.
SK and Roivant will would work together in a long-term partnership to develop a platform for “targeted protein degradation” — a young technology in the bio field also invested in by multinational firms like Pfizer, Bayer and GSK.
SK will become the second largest stakeholder in Roivant’s subsidiary dedicated to the project. The Korean company’s exact share was undisclosed.
The mechanism for most bio pharmaceutical drugs is for the treatment to damage protein in cells that cause the illness. As its name suggests, “targeted protein degradation” destroys the target protein for good.
This technology is considered a game changer in the field of drug development, SK says. It has higher selectivity, causes fewer side effects and paves way to tackle a wider range of diseases.
“With current technology, the old method of weakening protein performance can only tackle 20 to 30 percent of proteins known to cause illnesses,” SK said. “Degraders, on the other hand, can be made for every kind of treatment.”
The four pioneering start-ups in targeted protein degradation technology — Arvinas, Kymera, C4 and Nurix — total 6.7 trillion won ($6.1 billion) in market cap despite all four having been listed on the U.S. Nasdaq market in the past two years.
In the field of drug discovery, platform refers to a modular tool in which treatments with similar mechanisms can be developed with small alternations, saving costs and time. SK and Roivant’s targeted protein degradation platform will develop “degraders” that target cancer and incurable diseases affecting the body's immune and nervous systems. The U.S. bio firm has already developed six degraders so far with different targets.
“The first therapeutic candidate to emerge from this platform is on track to enter the clinic [trial] in 2021,” Roivant said in a Sunday statement.
Once a drug developed on a platform actually reaches the stage of commercialization, SK Holdings said its bio contract manufacturing subsidiary, SK Pharmteco, could get involved.
“We believe that AI-powered targeted protein degradation will not only improve inefficiencies in the pharmaceutical industry but also generate significant social impact by tackling unmet medical needs,” said Jang Dong-hyun, CEO of SK Holdings.
“In addition to this partnership, we look forward to working together to innovate on other aspects of health care with a long-term vision.”
BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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