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Biotech firm Cullgen’s April 10 announcement that it had received a $16 million Series A financing aimed at advancing treatment of cancer and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in a fresh way is another sign of the growing competition in this emerging field.

Specifically, Cullgen will put its new funding toward developing ubiquitin-mediated, small molecule protein degradation products and also discovering novel E3 ligands that could become part of a targeted protein degrader complex.

“The degraders are used as small molecules to induce degradation of proteins important for cancer cell growth. Such protein may or may not have genetic mutations. This approach may also be used in immunotherapy,” Ying Lui, chairman and president of Cullgen, told Karma Network on April 11.

Sequoia Capital China and Highlight Capital supplied the funding for the San Diego biotech firm, which was seeded in 2018 with $15 million from the Japanese biotech GNI Group. Sequoia will also assign a board member to join the Cullgen board.

Research on protein degradation isn’t new, but biotech interest and big financing is relatively recent.

“Since 2016, multiple protein-degradation-focused biotech firms have emerged with ample funding. Big pharma companies have launched internal efforts and forged partnerships to explore the modality,” wrote C&EN. However, it added, critical is whether products can be made that are safe and effective for humans.

Judging by the enormous checks companies are writing to biotech firms, confidence of success runs high. Plus, some inside biotech insiders contend that overcoming these barriers is simply a matter of hard work. “Our field is really good at reducing concepts to practice,” Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, told C&EN.

Among the leaders in the field is the New Haven, Conn.-based Arvinas, which partnered with Pfizer last year in an $830 million deal. In March, Arvinas announced the commencement of Phase 1 clinical trials on patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

Another player is C4 Therapeutics, of Watertown, Mass., which linked with Switzerland-based Roche in January.

Michelle Lodge is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in Time, Fortune, Barron’s, the Miami Herald, the British Medical Journal as well as on CNBC.com.

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