Vividion’s Paige Schaffer works in the company’s lab. The company’s drug-discovery platform targets “undruggable” proteins.

Vividion’s Paige Schaffer works in the company’s lab. The company’s drug-discovery platform targets “undruggable” proteins. Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle.

— Even by startup standards, Vividion Therapeutics CEO Diego Miralles makes bold claims. He said the venture marks a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to build a transformative company in San Diego.

Hyperbole or not, the company just secured $101 million upfront in a four-year collaboration with Celgene, the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant with a San Diego office. Further, the Celgene deal could yield even bigger bucks, the company has plans for its own drug pipeline, and it’s backed by heavy hitters in San Diego biotech.

The company — currently in a 12,000-square-foot office in La Jolla, including lab space buzzing with activity — will soon move to 34,000-square-foot digs in Sorrento Valley. Vividion has about 45 employees, with plans to hire significantly more.

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Vividion’s Paige Schaffer works in the company’s lab. The company’s drug-discovery platform targets “undruggable” proteins.

Celgene is tapping Vividion’s drug-discovery platform, aimed at compounds for “undruggable” proteins. This technology could open up the development of small molecule drugs, which are usually pills that can be swallowed — thus known for convenience and ease of delivery.

Reaching the Proteins

Small molecules have long been the ammunition of drugmakers targeting proteins linked to diseases. But swaths of proteins are undruggable — they lack pockets that small molecules can latch onto to interrupt the protein.

These tough-to-drug proteins have left diseases untreated. Through Vividion discovering molecules that bind to cell proteins, the partnership looks to create new drugs for cancer, inflammation and neurodegenerative conditions.

“The way that we search for drugs allows us to go after essentially most biological problems. We essentially can drug any protein in the cell. Therefore, that creates completely different types of possibilities,” Miralles said.

Besides Celgene, Vividion will work on its own drug programs. Because the platform allows so many options, Miralles said it’s a matter of deciding on which disease areas to focus.

“That’s both the opportunity of the company and the challenge of the company. We can do anything but we cannot do everything.”

The agreement with Celgene provides a runway — and freedom.

“The capital was significant. Very important was the freedom that it leaves Vividion to grow and be an independent company,” Miralles said.

Vividion’s platform is based on the work of three Scripps Research Institute scientists and company co-founders: Benjamin F. Cravatt, Jin-Quan Yu and Phil S. Baran. The company’s core tech was developed in Cravatt’s basement lab, and his ties with Celgene sparked collaboration talks.

Cravatt is also the scientific co-founder of Abide Therapeutics, which also was born in The Scripps Research Institute and partnered with Celgene.

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