Bridgene Biosciences Inc., a company using an in-house chemoproteomic platform to find and develop small molecules for hard-to-drug targets, has signed its first major pharma partnership with Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. for an undisclosed up-front payment. Takeda, which will initially focus on using the approach in neurodegenerative disorders, will have an exclusive license to each asset under the multiprogram agreement, and could pay Bridgene preclinical, clinical and commercial milestone payments in excess of $500 million, plus sales-based royalties.

The collaboration, Takeda's second neuroscience tie-up in as many weeks following another with Anima Biotech Inc., expands on a pilot project it completed with Bridgene last year. It will initially establish up to five separate drug discovery programs with the option to add up to four more.

"Partnerships such as this are central to our R&D strategy of pursuing precision medicine approaches to neuroscience disease," said Ceri Davies, head of Takeda's neuroscience drug discovery unit.

Ping Cao, co-founder and CEO, Bridgene

The programs will harness Bridgene's IMTAC (Isobaric Mass Tagged Affinity Characterization) chemoproteomic platform. The platform, designed to quickly identify and measure proteins in live cells and tissues, combines several advanced technologies, including organic synthesis, cellular biology, mass spectrometry and bioinformatics. "By combining these technologies together, you can directly identify high-value, previously undruggable targets directly from live cells," Bridgene CEO and co-founder Ping Cao told BioWorld.

"We use small molecules as bait," he said, putting them directly into live cells to "fish out" varying proteins, mainly those with shallow binding pockets, such as KRAS, or those that form only transient binding pockets inside live cells during protein-protein interactions, such as transcription factors.

The partnership represents a substantive validation for Bridgene, which is rapidly headed toward closure of a series A financing in the coming weeks, Cao said. The company got its start after Cao, an expert in biophysical and biochemical characterization of proteins and peptides, witnessed the challenges that small-molecule programs faced during tenures at Tularik Inc. and later Amgen Inc., which acquired Tularik in 2004. Inspired by a conversation with University of California professor Chao Zhang, Cao went on to co-found Bridgene with Irene Yuan. Zhang is now chair of the company's scientific advisory board.

Though Bridgene's collaboration with Takeda has spotlighted the use of its IMTAC platform for the development of programs for neurodegenerative disease, Cao said it could be equally applied to other areas, including oncology and autoimmune diseases. Partnership talks with other top-tier pharma companies interested in the platform are already underway, he said.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company is also advancing three internal programs of its own, two of which are in preclinical development and a third discovery-stage program. One targets transcription factors, while the other two are focused on oncology targets, Cao said.