Amyris to team up with Janssen on biosynthetic drug discovery

Amyris’s µPharm platform to be used for rapid integrated discovery and production of therapeutic compounds

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EMERYVILLE, Calif.—Amyris Inc. announced June 6 that it had entered into a research agreement with a commercial license option with Janssen Biotech Inc., part of Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. Under the terms of the agreement, facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the collaboration will use Amyris’s µPharm platform technology to develop a customized library of natural and natural-like compounds to test against a Janssen therapeutic target.
As Amyris notes, nature “has been a great source for therapeutics, ranging from antibiotics to statins that lower cholesterol levels; however, nature’s potential is often under-utilized due to scarcity or unavailability.”
What Amyris’s µPharm platform technology is designed to do is enable an integrated discovery and production process for therapeutic compounds that not only provides access to scarce natural compounds but also “creates new diversity based on natural compound scaffolds.”
“We’re pleased to add another strong partner to our collaboration portfolio and this agreement is consistent with our overall business model of upfront development investment by a partner and an opportunity for a long term revenue stream following successful commercialization,” said Cynthia Bryant, Amyris’ senior vice president of corporate development and collaborations. “This technology opens a new area of compounds that have never been accessible for new drug discovery.”
Under the terms of the deal, Amyris will employ its µPharm platform technology to develop a library of natural and natural-like compounds and test the efficacy of those compounds in vivo for hits against Janssen’s identified target. This is, Amyris says, a different approach than traditional high-throughput screening, which typically applies thousands of chemical compounds in in-vitro screens to find a drug candidate. Instead, the µPharm platform starts with the target, identifies candidate natural compound structures, and then creates diversity around those structures for in-vivo testing. The result, according to Amyris, can lead to increased speed and enhanced efficiency in identifying hits while accelerating the time to market commercialization.
“We are helping to take some of the guesswork out of new drug discovery, which helps our partners, like Janssen, to be able to more quickly understand target interaction and ultimately discover new therapies faster,” explained Joel Cherry, Amyris’s president of research and development.
“Janssen has a successful history of identifying and tapping into new innovation through collaborations. They are an ideal partner for Amyris to demonstrate the benefits of our µPharm platform technology while improving the health of everyone in the world,” concluded Bryant.
In other relatively recent Amyris news, the company announced this spring the signing of a stock purchase agreement for a $5-million equity investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The investment is to fund a program to further reduce the cost of one of the world’s leading malaria treatments so that no child has to go without treatment for malaria. The program will focus on the continued production of high-quality and secure supplies of artemisinic acid and amorphadiene to be converted to artemisinin for use in artemisinin combination therapies.
As for other recent Janssen-related news, U.K.-based Optibrium, a developer of software for small-molecule discovery, announced in late May that Janssen Research and Development has signed an agreement to license Optibrium’s StarDrop software. The agreement will provide a global licence for StarDrop and eight of StarDrop’s optional plug-in modules.
StarDrop is a software suite that helps researchers to deliver optimally balanced, successful compounds, with the concept, as Obtibrium puts it, that it “brings confidence and intuitive simplicity to decision making, guiding and validating the direction taken by project teams and which compounds are prioritized.”
StarDrop works by evaluating project teams’ complex data, which is often uncertain because of experimental variability or predictive error. Its interactive tools are designed to help researchers to efficiently explore ways to further improve their chosen compounds. StarDrop's core features can also be extended with a range of optional plug-in modules that provide comprehensive capabilities for compound optimization, including predictive models for ADME properties, P450 metabolism and toxicity; automatic QSAR model building; 3D structure-activity relationships; and de-novo design to stimulate the search for new optimization strategies.
Dr Matthew Segall, Optibrium’s CEO, commented, “Optibrium and Janssen have enjoyed a long history of collaboration and we are delighted that this has expanded into a worldwide partnership with StarDrop being selected to help guide their global drug discovery research efforts.”

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