Pardon the disruption

Roche and Evolva use discovery platform to create compounds that mimic those that are naturally occurring

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BASEL, Switzerland—Evolva Holding SA has signed an agreement with Roche to create compounds with activity on targets in oncology and anti-infectives using Evolva's proprietary discovery technology platform that is based on a so-called "disruptive approach" to the creation of novel small molecules.

Roche will pay Evolva an upfront technology access fee and ongoing research fees and take forward any compounds discovered as a result of the collaboration. Roche will potentially pay Evolva research and clinical milestone fees as well as royalties on any products that result from the collaboration. Evolva will have the first right to any compounds not taken forward, or subsequently deemphasized by Roche. Rights to its technology remain with Evolva; rights for potential clinical candidates belong to Roche, together with global marketing rights.

According to Peter Sandbach, group communications for pharma partnering at Roche, Roche has been looking closely at the area of genetic chemistry and its potential in helping the company bring clinically differentiated medicines to patients.

"We were excited about the prospects of this technology," he says, noting that Evolva already had such a technology platform up and running. "As with all our collaborations, we evaluated the potential using available data; we intend to fully evaluate the potential of the technology during our collaboration, and expect to see more data over the next couple of years. Beyond oncology and anti-infectives, if the collaboration goes well and we see encouraging results from our initial studies, we may investigate using this platform in other disease areas."

Neil Goldsmith, CEO & managing director of Evolva, says, "The agreement with Roche represents another step forward in the development of our genetic chemistry technologies. By exploring biosynthetic scaffolds that have many of the 'design features' of nature, we aim to build a pipeline of novel diverse compounds with anti-infective and anti-cancer effects. We are very pleased to have a leading player such as Roche expressing their confidence in our discovery platform."

Evolva's proprietary discovery technology platform—what the company refers to as a "disruptive" technological approach to the creation of novel small molecules—differs sharply from synthetic chemistry and protein engineering approaches, side-stepping major constraints such as modest throughput and practical diversity limitations. The company points out that organic synthesis is not the only way to make compounds, and cites examples of compounds that are found in or derived from nature (the statins, taxol, morphine, etc.) as examples of drugs with exquisite design made by biological processes as the result of a cascade of enzymatic reactions. The approach used by Evolva mimics these natural processes to produce compounds that are structurally differentiated from those obtained from conventional synthetic approaches. Such compounds are more rigid and have more complex stereochemistries—properties that can make the compounds more active and specific. New mechanisms of action may also result and optimization can focus on function not affinity.

Based on this technology, Evolva has a number of discovery and preclinical partnerships, which in 2008 generated revenues of about $11.5 million. Evolva also has an active pipeline of compounds—one compound, for renal and cardiovascular diseases, entered Phase I at the beginning of 2009, and two others, an anti-fungal and an anti-viral, are expected to enter Phase I in 2010.

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