Belharra launches with $130M from Versant, Genentech to advance chemoproteomics platform
Published: Jan 04, 2023
By Rosemary Scott
Versant Ventures-backed Belharra Therapeutics launched Wednesday with $130 million in total financing to advance its novel chemoproteomics platform.
The funding includes $50 million in Series A financing from Versant and $80 million upfront from Roche’s Genentech, with whom Belharra has inked a multi-year partnership deal.
In its announcement, Belharra stated its platform can overcome the challenges in the chemoproteomics space, as it does not need specific amino acid residues to exist on a protein in order to identify and label the proteome. Instead, the platform relies on its photochemistry technology.
Originally born out of a Scripps Research laboratory, the technology uses a library of photoaffinity-based chemical probes that identify and trap protein-ligand interactions. According to Behlarra, this allows the platform to pinpoint non-covalent, small-molecule drug candidates for “any binding site, on any protein, in any conformational state, in any cell type.”
Chemoproteomics itself is nothing new, and scholarly articles published in scientific journals detailing its potential date back to 2012.
But Jeff Jonker, CEO of Belharra, called Belharra’s platform a “first,” as it allows the company to target the “full range of protein classes and targets.” Previously, Jonker also served in a leadership role at Genentech.
“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,” Jonker added.
This announcement comes on the heels of a successful year for Genentech, with multiple FDA approvals in the last month alone. On Dec. 23, it scored FDA approval for Lunsumio, a bispecific antibody for the treatment of relapsed/refractory follicular lymphoma. Two days prior, the agency had also approved Genentech’s Actemra to treat COVID-19 in hospitalized adults.
Genentech was also busy on the partnership front throughout 2022, signing several large, multi-year deals. This included a deal with Arsenal Biosciences in September, a license agreement with Jemincare in August and a deal with Bicycle Therapeutics in July, among others.
Though neither company gave specific details beyond the announcement of the collaboration, the large sum Genentech provided for Belharra’s launch speaks to the confidence its team must have in the brand new biotech.