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Drug Development

Revolution Medicines to acquire Warp Drive

The all-stock deal marks the final chapter for the ambitious genome-mining firm

by Lisa M. Jarvis
October 16, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 42


A photo of Mark Goldsmith.
Credit: Revolution Medicines
Revolution CEO Mark Goldsmith will lead the combined company.

Revolution Medicines will broaden its cancer pipeline with the all-stock acquisition of Warp Drive Bio. The deal is a closing chapter for Warp Drive, which was formed in 2012 with ambitious drug discovery goals but has yet to put a compound into the clinic.

The companies have much in common. Both were birthed by the life sciences venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures. Both have notable chemists as founders: Redwood City, Calif.-based Warp Drive is the brainchild of Harvard University professor and serial entrepreneur Gregory Verdine, while Revolution was spun out of the lab of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign professor Martin Burke.

Each had, at one point, its own sizable deal with Sanofi. The French firm was an early investor in Warp Drive and this summer established a lucrative oncology pact with Revolution.

And both were created with lofty scientific ambitions that have morphed as the companies matured. Revolution launched in 2015 to capitalize on a method developed by Burke to synthesize complex molecules, including natural products, from simple starting materials. But the company’s science has since expanded beyond that technology, enabling the discovery of the compound licensed to Sanofi, an inhibitor of SHP2, a key player in the Ras pathway.

Warp Drive, meanwhile, was established with the goal of dominating the emerging field of genome mining, a way of sifting through bacterial DNA for the recipes for novel compounds. Verdine, who was also the company’s first CEO, had very specific ambitions for the technology: He wanted to find small molecules that could act as glue between a protein-folding chaperone called FKBP and a flat drug target. Verdine believed such molecules could help tackle one of cancer’s most notoriously difficult to drug foes, KRas.

The merged biotech firm “will now have deep coverage of the Ras pathway through the combination of our lead programs,” as well as other, earlier projects within Warp Drive, says Revolution’s CEO Mark Goldsmith, who will maintain his leadership role.

Warp Drive continues to use its genome mining platform to pursue antibiotics, an effort supported by a pact with Roche. Revolution is mulling a long-term strategy for that platform and will keep Warp Drive’s research site in Cambridge, Mass., open during the transition period. Meanwhile, the fate of Warp Drive’s 43 employees is also up in the air. Goldsmith says most employees will stay on during the transition, but its unclear how many will move to California.


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