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12:00 AM
 | 
Jan 30, 2012
 |  BioCentury  |  Strategy

Committing to covalency

Avila gives Celgene a new discovery platform as well as complement to Revlimid

After building a business by combining in-house discovery with early stage licensing deals and opportunistic later-stage M&A, Celgene Corp.'s plan to buy Avila Therapeutics Inc. marks its first acquisition of a small molecule discovery platform in over a decade. The deal also brings in AVL-292, a Phase I program for B cell malignancies to complement Celgene's blockbuster Revlimid lenalidomide.

Celgene has not brought in a new small molecule drug discovery capability since 2000, when it bought Signal Pharmaceuticals Inc. for a discovery platform based on intracellular signaling and gene and protein regulation. Instead, the company has been feeding its early stage pipeline from in-house discovery, plus a variety of licensing and option deals for earlier-stage assets (see BioCentury, July 3, 2000).

All of Celgene's three largest acquisitions - Pharmion Corp., Gloucester Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Abraxis BioScience Inc. - have involved takeouts of companies with approved cancer drugs and related development programs, but little in the way of research or discovery.

Celgene spokesperson Brian Gill offered two reasons why Celgene broke the mold with Avila: it offers a unique approach for discovery using covalent bonding for protein silencing; and Celgene believes AVL-292, a Bruton's tyrosine kinase (Btk) inhibitor, has best-in-class potential to treat B cell malignancies.

Avila's Avilomics covalent drug discovery platform combines chemistry and informatics about a protein to engineer small molecules that irreversibly bind to silence the target with high selectivity, including targets not readily approachable using traditional discovery and design methods.

Celgene agreed to pay $350 million up front plus up to $575 million in milestones. The bulk of the milestones depend on the...

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