October 12, 2022

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‘Pluck those diamonds’: Bayer’s Vividion eyes up to nine oncology targets from Duke spinout


This post originally appeared in Endpoint News, authored by Kyle LaHucik.

After snapping up Vividion before it could jump onto Nasdaq last August, Bayer’s preclinical ‘arms-length’ subsidiary is betting on a relatively unknown North Carolina upstart in a five-year pact.

The initial focus concerns four targets, but the deal with Durham-based Tavros Therapeutics could balloon by another five targets, which would more than double the terms from $430.5 million in milestones to a whopping $912 million. Either way, the 14-employee Tavros gets $17.5 million upfront.

That’s more than double the upstart’s second go-around at a seed financing, coming in at $7.5 million just weeks ago. The Duke spinout is backed by Piedmont Capital Investments, KdT Ventures and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Vividion, focused on small molecules and for years claiming it can go after the so-called undruggable, is still in its preclinical days, as is its new partner, which is building out its own precision oncology pipeline and nearing the end of its three-year collaboration with Zentalis Pharmaceuticals.

Bayer nabs star biotech Vividion with a $2B buyout and an ‘arms-length’ pact, pulling a partner out of the IPO conga line
Using a functional and computational genomics platform, Bayer’s San Diego unit is tasking its cross-country neighbor with finding new targets and biomarkers that it can go after with existing molecules.

Tavros CEO Eoin McDonnell, who got to know the Vividion team while in San Diego as a postdoc at Pfizer, said the approach is tissue-agnostic. McDonnell co-founded the biotech, which turns three this weekend and was named by his wife, with Kris Wood. The Duke pharmacology and cancer biology associate professor had previously co-founded Element Genomics, acquired by UCB Pharma in 2018, and had recruited McDonnell to work there.

“We can pluck those diamonds in the rough of all the targets that are accessible and druggable to Vividion and identify clinical positioning strategies from the start for these,” McDonnell told Endpoints News ahead of the deal reveal.

“They were allowing us really to access another side of the genome that otherwise would be practically inaccessible to us,” he continued.

In a statement, Vividion CEO Jeff Hatfield said Tavros will help his team find “unknown synthetic vulnerabilities or dependencies in deadly tumor cells.”

And with the help of Vividion, Tavros can now be a little bit more picky about when it chooses to raise a Series A, McDonnell said, noting that’s a good position to be in with this economic climate for very early-stage biotechs.

The pair will cooperate on discovery and preclinical work and then Tavros will pass the baton to Vividion. Named after the Greek word for bull, Tavros is a better name than Bull City Biotech, McDonnell joked, referring to the more than century-old nickname assigned to the company’s home city.