Novartis and UC Berkeley Extend Alliance to Tackle “Undruggable” Disease Targets and Discover New Therapeutic Modalities

July 28th, 2022

  • Novartis-Berkeley Translational Chemical Biology Institute combines Novartis expertise in chemical biology and medicinal chemistry with Berkeley’s expertise in covalent chemoproteomics and chemistry methodologies
  • Research collaboration aims to unlock intractable drug targets, discover new therapeutic modalities, and accelerate discovery of new medicines in human diseases 
  • Successes thus far from the research collaboration include discovery of novel targeted protein degradation strategies, development of a new therapeutic modality for targeted protein stabilization, and a spin-out company 

Novartis and the University of California, Berkeley have extended their research-based collaboration to develop new technologies for the discovery of next-generation therapeutics, following its successes over the last five years. The combined research team is pursuing a vast number of disease targets in cancer and other illnesses that have eluded traditional small-molecule compounds and drug discovery strategies.

“One of the biggest challenges facing drug discovery is that the majority of proteins are currently still considered ‘undruggable,’” said covalent chemoproteomics expert Daniel Nomura, Director of the Institute and Professor of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology in the Molecular Therapeutics Division, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley. “Most proteins do not possess well-defined binding pockets or ‘ligandable hotspots’ that can be pharmacologically and functionally targeted for therapeutic benefit. Tackling these undruggable proteins requires the development of innovative technologies for ligand discovery and the discovery of novel therapeutic modalities to functionally manipulate these intractable proteins for therapeutic benefit.” 

This research collaboration allows UC Berkeley scientists to work with their scientific peers at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) to find new cures for debilitating illnesses. The second phase of the research collaboration is the Novartis-Berkeley Translational Chemical Biology Institute, and is based at UC Berkeley. The Berkeley team includes Professors Nomura, F. Dean Toste, Thomas Maimone, Ziyang Zhang, and James Olzmann. The science and strategy underpinning the research collaboration aim to harness covalency, coupled with chemoproteomics technology, to enable the discovery of small-molecule compounds that could ultimately form the basis of proximity-based therapeutics. 

“I am thrilled to be able to help build off the momentum gained during the past five years and equally excited to synergize with new colleagues,” said Maimone, Associate Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley. “With expanded scientific expertise, increasingly sophisticated chemistries, and new envisioned therapeutic modalities, the next several years will be exhilarating.”

The inaugural research collaboration, the Novartis-Berkeley Center for Chemistry and Proteomics Technologies, led to multiple groundbreaking discoveries, including the development of several novel recruiters of E3 ubiquitin ligases that can be exploited in the degradation of disease causing proteins; the development of new chemistry that can be used to enhance the scope of covalent chemoproteomic technologies; and the creation of a new therapeutic platform called Deubiquitinase Targeting Chimeras (DUBTACs) for stabilizing the levels of proteins that are aberrantly degraded. This work has led to several publications and patents and facilitated the training of emerging scientists. The DUBTAC platform is also the basis of a spinout company, Vicinitas Therapeutics, focused on developing DUBTACs into a unique, potential, proximity-based therapeutic modality for cancer, genetic disorders, and other indications. 

“We joined forces with Berkeley five years ago because we knew that many compelling targets in disease biology remain beyond reach – and that no one team or discipline could tackle the toughest among them alone,” said Jay Bradner, President of NIBR. “Today, we recommit to working shoulder-to-shoulder to make these so-called ‘undruggable’ targets druggable.”

Moving forward, the alliance will continue to develop new chemistries and chemical technologies for targeting undruggable proteins, expand upon emerging therapeutic modalities such as targeted protein degradation (TPD) that exploit the cell’s natural protein disposal system to destroy disease-causing proteins, and develop new therapeutic modalities that enable access into larger swaths of the undruggable protein landscape.   

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements can generally be identified by words such as “to tackle,” “aims,” “next-generation,” “pioneers,” “aimed,” “to explore,” “potential,” “can,” “will,” “plan,” “could,”  “investigational,” or similar terms, or by express or implied discussions regarding the aims of the research collaboration with UC Berkeley, regarding potential new platform technology or products arising from the research collaboration with UC Berkeley, or regarding potential future revenues from such new platform technology or products. You should not place undue reliance on these statements. Such forward-looking statements are based on our current beliefs and expectations regarding future events, and are subject to significant known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements. There can be no guarantee that the research collaboration with UC Berkeley will be successful or achieve its intended goals. Neither can there be any guarantee that any new platform technology or investigational products will result from the research collaboration.  Nor can there be any guarantee that any investigational products resulting from the research collaboration will be submitted or approved for sale in any market, or at any particular time. Nor can there be any guarantee that such new platform technology or products will be commercially successful in the future. In particular, our expectations regarding such new platform technology and products could be affected by, among other things, the success of the research collaboration with UC Berkeley, our ability to effectively deploy and use any new platform technology arising from the research collaboration, the uncertainties inherent in research and development, including clinical trial results and additional analysis of existing clinical data; regulatory actions or delays or government regulation generally; our ability to obtain or maintain proprietary intellectual property protection; the particular prescribing preferences of physicians and patients; global trends toward health care cost containment, including government, payor and general public pricing and reimbursement pressures; general economic and industry conditions, including the effects of the persistently weak economic and financial environment in many countries; safety, quality or manufacturing issues, and other risks and factors referred to in Novartis AG’s current Form 20-F on file with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Novartis is providing the information in this press release as of this date and does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained in this press release as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.


Katie Engleman, 1AB