Ensemble Signs Pact with Boehringer Worth up to $186 million

11/1/12Follow @cathyarnst

Ensemble Therapeutics  of Cambridge, MA, said today that it may receive up to $186 million from a new collaboration with Germany-based Boehringer Ingelheim to develop drugs against a range of unnamed disease targets.

Ensemble said it will receive an up-front payment and more money for research as it reaches successive milestones leading up to commercial success, but would not disclose further details of the partnership.

The two companies will work on drugs derived from macrocycles, mid-size molecules that are bigger than the small molecules used for most oral drugs and smaller than the large protein-based antibodies that most biotech drugs are based on, which must be administered intravenously. Macrocycles have been difficult to synthesize and no drugs have yet to be developed based on them, but Ensemble says it has developed a technology that can turn macrocycles into a new class of drugs called Ensemblins, which it describes as “small molecules with the power of biologics.”

They would be taken orally, but have the ability to target specific cellular proteins, much like antibodies. But as my colleague Luke Timmerman wrote last year, macrocycles have plenty of skeptics.

Nevertheless, Boehringer is Ensemble’s fourth development partner since the company was founded in 2004 to commercialize the work of David Liu of Harvard University, with $32 million in funding raised by Flagship Ventures and others. Genentech, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer are also working with Ensemble to find macrocyclic-based drugs. So far, Ensemble says its primary focus is on drugs for cancer and autoimmune diseases.

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