Winner of the CVC Investment in a Spinout of the Year: Ribon Therapeutics - Novartis Venture Fund, Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC, Takeda Ventures, Celgene

There is an assumption that tech transfer offices face an uphill battle when trying to equip their spinouts with corporate venture capital. This is certainly true to an extent as the early-stage nature of spinouts means it is a difficult proposition for corporates. It is not impossible to pull off, of course, and funds such as Oxford Sciences Innovation attracting limited partners such as GV, an early-stage investment arm of conglomerate Alphabet, prove as much.

Even when it comes to direct investments in spinouts by corporate venturing subsidiaries, there are countless examples – Global University Venturing tracks about half a dozen a week on average. So the introduction of an award recognising this achievement has been long overdue.

And among so many options, Ribon Therapeutics, a US-based biotechnology company developing enzyme families activated under cellular stress conditions, is a rightful winner. The spinout emerged from stealth in January with $65m in series B capital provided by a consortium led by Novartis Venture Fund, the corporate venturing division of pharmaceutical firm Novartis.

Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC and Takeda Ventures, respective corporate venturing subsidiaries of healthcare group Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical company Takeda, also participated in the series B round, as did biotechnology developer Celgene.

Spinout-focused investment firm Osage University Partners, Column Group, Deerfield Management, US Venture Partners and Euclidean Capital filled out the round, which followed $23.5m in 2016 and $20m in 2017, according to regulatory filings.

While it was unclear in which of these two preceding rounds they participated, Novartis Venture Fund, Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JJDC and Celgene were all identified as returning investors for the series B, indicating they were on board much earlier.

Founded in 2015, Ribon Therapeutics is working on treatments initially focused on cancer but with the additional potential to treat inflammatory diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. It targets the regulators of cellular stress pathways activated by cancer cells, which use these pathways to counteract cellular stress such as the accumulation of DNA damage.

The company’s lead asset is focused on Parp7 inhibitors for squamous cell lung cancer. The inhibitors remove cancer cells’ ability to evade immune detection and repair themselves.

The approach is not entirely new and remains early-stage, but if Ribon’s lead asset and pipeline prove successful, it could turn Parp inhibitors into a much more viable treatment for various conditions including cancer. It would particularly benefit people with limited treatment options.

While it may be early days for Ribon’s treatments, the company is building on research from not one but three internationally renowned institutions – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre and Harvard University’s Harvard Medical School. And the calibre of investors – most importantly the four healthcare corporates – reinforce the fact that Ribon is a force to be reckoned with.