Covalent drugs take the stage — again — in Atlas Venture's latest startup – BioPharma Dive

Covalent drugs are nothing new for biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Some of the most important medicines in the industry’s history, like aspirin and penicillin, tightly bind to proteins in the human body, rather than bounce in and out of their targets.
What is relatively recent is the purposeful, rather than accidental, development of medicines that work by forming covalent bonds. The blood cancer drug Imbruvica, for example, was designed by a biotech startup and sold to Pharmacyclics, which eventually took it through clinical testing. An Atlas startup formed more than a decade ago, Avila Therapeutics, discovered a similar type of medicine that led to a buyout from Celgene.
The draw in developing covalent drugs is the irreversible bonds they form with their targets. In theory, binding in this way could lead to more potent medicines. But it’s a challenging effort, too, because of potential off-target effects.
Matchpoint argues it can overcome those concerns with the help of advanced computing tools and screening methods that can help it unearth new covalent drug targets.
Since the Cambridge, Mass., company’s founding in June 2021, it has developed “multiple programs” for autoimmune diseases, an area Turenne described as underserved by oral small molecules.
“We have this rare opportunity to take a known modality and realize its true potential,” Turenne said in an interview, “so it’s a powerful but very pragmatic approach to drug discovery.”
Though the company did not disclose what specific disease areas it’s pursuing, its research is focused on cysteine, a protein building block that performs a variety of functions.
In the coming year, Matchpoint also intends to license drugs and form research collaborations with other drugmakers, Turenne said.
Some of the proceeds from Matchpoint’s Series A round will go toward expanding the company’s team. Matchpoint currently employs 25 people, and will add nearly that many again by the end of next year.
Matchpoint was co-founded by Nathanael Gray, a Stanford University researcher and prolific biotech startup founder, and Edward Chouchani, a professor of cell biology at Harvard University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Atlas partner Bruce Booth leads Matchpoint’s board of directors. Joining him are Dan Becker, an investor at Access Biotechnology, and Jason Hafler, a managing director at Sanofi Ventures.
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Six CAR-T cell therapies are now approved in the U.S., and their continued emergence has helped fueled further research into next-generation approaches.
The FDA’s clearances of Zynteglo and Skysona are a boost to Bluebird, and could help lift the research field after a series of setbacks. But selling the high-priced therapies will be a challenge.
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