Cytokinetics: A Platform Case Study for the Next Decade
This article was originally published in Start Up
Cytokinetics' plan to become a drug discovery company and ASP depends on an innovative technology platform, consisting of a program that targets the cell's cytoskeletal structure to develop novel therapeutics, and one in cellular bioinformatics, designed to unlock the lead optimization bottleneck by automating cell biology. The company has impressive talent and investors, along with some promising early validation of its technology. But it has yet to sign up any pharmaceutical company partners or customers. And it is selling to a skeptical industry that over the last decade has bought into a number of new technologies offering partial solutions to inefficiencies in the drug discovery process, without improving productivity in terms of generating pharmacologically acceptable lead compounds. Thus, the question facing Cytokinetics is how much will Big Pharma pay for potential discovery breakthrough technologies, and will it be enough for the biotech to validate their science. It's also a question likely to confront other emerging platform companies as they increasingly find themselves the sole entrants in their fields, and in the position of having to create their own markets.
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At a time when high-cash discovery deals, and particularly platform deals, are increasingly difficult to find, a number of companies have pursued alternative strategies for creating important transactions. In the first place, many biotechs have changed their attitude to technology transfer, willingly selling technology, and sacrificing any product-related upside from their clients' programs, in return for more significant upfront funding to pay for creating a more integrated in-house discovery effort. Several companies have also, by focusing efforts on just a few partners, expanded the relationships into a series of deeper and more valuable collaborations. Other biotechs have recognized the value of barter, trading off cash compensation for assets, like combinatorial chemistry expertise, assays, cell lines or even product candidates, which allows them to build internal value faster.
Cytokinetics' recently signed research collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline provides some third-party validation for the three-year-old start-up's cytoskeleton-based technology platform. The deal which provides Cytokinetics with at least $50 million in committed funding, centers on the discovery and development of small molecule therapeutics that target mitotic kinesins for applications in the treatment of cancer. Cytokinetics also stands to earn substantial milestones on royalties in connection with the mitotic kinesins that are the subject of the collaboration, as well as buy-in rights on any drug candidates.
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