BiotechBayer bets $1.5B that Vividion will help it target the 'undruggable' and make 1+1=3

Sometimes, it takes $1.5 billion to make "one plus one equal three."


Bayer wanted to "really transform" its R&D engine under its recently installed pharma R&D leader. Meanwhile, the public markets had nothing on an acquisition deal for Vividion Therapeutics, so the biotech scrapped its IPO vision.


Instead, the small California biotech is linking arms with the German Big Pharma, but at an "arm's length" so Vividion can remain independent, leaders from the companies told Fierce Biotech. The $1.5 billion acquisition deal, disclosed Thursday, could grow by $500 million given successful milestones.


The near-term goal? Be in the clinic in 24 to 48 months and have approved medicines before 2030, said Christian Rommel, Ph.D., head of Bayer's pharma R&D, in an interview.


"We get access to a very attractive, highly innovative, competitive early-stage pipeline. So sometimes you get a pipeline and sometimes you get a technology platform. Vividion offers both," Rommel said.


Despite scientific advancements, the industry may only have access to "at best 10% of the human genome or the translation to the human proteome," which leaves a vast blank space and a whole host of "undruggable" targets, the R&D leader said. But Rommel said he saw the potential in Vividion's small-molecule discovery platform and knew the pharma had to pick up the small California biotech to make "one plus one equal three."


For Rommel, who stepped into the R&D lead role Feb. 1, Bayer has not "delivered enough for patients yet." The Vividion deal "fits in the bigger picture" of Bayer's R&D transformation, Rommel said, pointing to the company's $2 billion acquisition of gene therapy player AskBio last October and $240 million purchase of cell therapy biotech BlueRock two Augusts ago.


On the other side, Vividion knew that an initial public offering wouldn't allow it to expand beyond its three preclinical programs fast enough. And once Rommel and Vividion Scientific Founder Ben Cravatt, Ph.D., realized they had the same vision, it all made sense to come together.


"We were frankly concerned that we had so many interesting opportunities that we were beginning to split hairs about how to prioritize those internally for our own development as a small biotech company," Cravatt, also a member of Vividion's board, said in the joint interview with Rommel. Vividion spun out of the The Scripps Research Institute in 2017, where Cravatt is co-chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine.


Vividion is initially focused on NRF2-mutant cancers and NRF2 activators for inflammatory diseases, including irritable bowel disease. As part of the acquisition, Bayer gets full rights to Vividion's chemoproteomic screening technology, data portal and proprietary chemistry library.


Vividion is no stranger to working with Big Pharma. Roche handed over $135 million upfront in May 2020 for a protein degradation deal, and the company disclosed a partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb in February when announcing its $135 million series C.


Cravatt said Vividion will "continue to pursue those" partnerships, since the biotech's success now translates to success for Bayer, as well.


With the resources in hand, Vividion will be "liberated from the constraints" of having to narrow its target selections, Cravatt said.


"We're living in a very special time. I think this is the first generation of translational scientists who can really use humans as the model organism, if you will, for selecting targets and developing drugs, and that actually was one of the main motivations for starting Vividion," Cravatt said.

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