Today we celebrate the company SyntheX, which announced a $550 million research collaboration with Bristol Myers-Squibb to develop better cancer drugs with SyntheX’s drug discovery platforms.
It’s an astounding achievement, a great long-term partnership, and very meaningful validation of SyntheX and its founders, Maria Soloveychik and Charly Chahwan. It’s also the culmination of everything we built at IndieBio, and it’s the largest deal of any kind in the history of IndieBio.
SyntheX was incubated at SOSV’s IndieBio in the spring and summer of 2016. We re-invested soon after with what was, at the time, one of our biggest seed follow-on checks ever. We believed something that many people were still quite skeptical of – that brilliant scientists could build a truly great drug discovery company, even if their background was mostly in academia. We believed that scientists could be entrepreneurs.
Fast forward to 2020, and the momentum behind this core inspiration was showing some day-after doldrums. It’s a really fundamental question, almost biblical: will greatness be rewarded?
Since 2016, we kept investing in SyntheX, every raise that was needed. Arvind Gupta was our investor in all the early years, and remains a pivotal board member today. But since 2020, these follow-on investment decisions have fallen to myself and Sean O’Sullivan, Managing General Partner of SOSV.
In drug development, everybody knows Lipinsky’s “Rule of Five.” It’s a screening test for candidate drugs, or lead compounds. It broadly paints the difference between a pharmacokinetic lead compound and an actual optimized working drug, defining drug-like properties, including their absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. One might also say that the biotech funding environment has their own “Rule of Five.” These questions mirror Lipinski in their own way. Have you done it before? How many patients will it reach? Will the FDA approve? Can you raise?
Every VC asks these questions.
But you must recognize excellence when you see it. SyntheX’s platform developed the capability to repeatedly produce stunningly elegant compounds. I have fond memories of several long sessions with Sean, Maria, Charly and I. Walking through the biology one step at a time. They’ve been some of the most instructive and inspiring hours of my life.
It’s important to disambiguate between the pretty simple concept of “backing our founders to the death” and “making up our own mind.” At SOSV, we certainly have the benefit of knowing our founders from inception stage. But we continued to invest in SyntheX because of the excellence of their work.
We’re honored that SyntheX twice won the Celgene “golden ticket” for best startup. And when Celgene was acquired by BMS in 2019, this translated into a sincere mutual respect with BMS that evolved over time into a great partnership.
SyntheX and BMS will be working on creating drugs in the class of “molecular glues.” Put simply, a molecular glue binds to a mutated, oncogenic protein and initiates a process for the body to degrade that protein. Conventionally, molecular glues were discovered serendipitously. By contrast, SyntheX’s platform enables molecular glues to be rationally designed.