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Vertex to pay Cambridge startup Kymera $70m in R&D deal

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. is based in the Seaport District.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. is based in the Seaport District. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe)

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the Boston biotech best known for its portfolio of drugs to treat cystic fibrosis, will pay $70 million up front to a Cambridge startup that hopes to use a novel approach to treat diseases. It will initially focus on inflammatory disorders and cancers, but the science could potentially apply to a broad range of illnesses.

Vertex announced a four-year research and development collaboration Wednesday with Kymera Therapeutics. The privately held startup wants to develop drugs based on Nobel Prize-winning insights into how the body eliminates disease-causing proteins.

Mark Bunnage, senior vice president and site head for Boston research at Vertex, said executives at the publicly traded drug company were impressed with Kymera’s “compelling technology platform.”

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“This collaboration with Kymera will enhance our drug discovery capabilities and support our strategy of investing in scientific innovation to develop transformative medicines for serious diseases,” he said.

A Vertex spokeswoman said the company isn’t ready to specify what disease it hopes to treat with Kymera’s approach.

Kymera was co-founded in 2016 by Atlas Venture, the Cambridge venture capital company. It has raised nearly $100 million in venture capital and signed an agreement last year to collaborate with GlaxoSmithKline. The financial terms of that deal were not disclosed.

Kymera wants to use the body’s innate ability to break down and recycle proteins and redirect it to target untreatable diseases. Its trademark approach, called Pegasus, is “disease agnostic,” meaning it could apply to many conditions. The approach is based on insights that led to the 2004 Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to two scientists in Israel and one in the United States.

Laurent Audoly, chief executive and president of Kymera, said he was thrilled to be working with Vertex.

“Having the opportunity to partner with a sophisticated pharma company such as Vertex that’s really pushing the boundaries of innovation and trying to access new modalities is something we’re very excited about,” Audoly said in an interview.

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Vertex is known for its drugs Kalydeco, Orkambi, and Symdeko — groundbreaking medicines used to treat cystic fibrosis. A rare genetic illness, cystic fibrosis attacks the lungs and other organs.

Vertex hopes to win approval soon of a new medicine that would combine Symdeko and another experimental drug to make cystic fibrosis treatable for 90 percent of patients.


Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com