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Local Tech Wire

MORRISVILLE, N.C. – , a startup co-founded by UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp, is partnering with Novartis on a drug development deal that is worth more than $200 million.

In addition to an upfront payment, will pay milestone payments plus royalties on products developed through the agreement. The Novartis fund, which is part of the Swiss drug giant’s venture capital arm, already is an investor in Viamet, having participated in an $18 million round last year.

Viamet is developing technology to make drugs safer through use of so-called metalloenzyme inhibitors. The inhibitors are actual metal components of drugs and bind to other metals in a patient’s body, enabling drugs to work.

Viamet also has developed proprietary technology for drug development called the Metallophile Technology platform.

According to the National Institutes of Health, metalloenzymes are a “diverse class of enzymes that require a catalytic metal ion for activity.”

Viamet is exploring the use of inhibitors based on metalloenzymes to fight infectious diseases, inflammation and oncology. The company is developing what it calls “novel therapeutic agents” that will target metalloenzymes or disrupt a cell’s ability to utilize metal ions such as zinc and iron.

Novartis is licensing the Metallophile platform in an attempt to develop inhibitors against a specific metalloenzyme “of high interest” to Novartis, the company said.

The company was founded by UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp and Thomas O’Halloran of Northwestern University. Thorp is a bioinorganic chemist and inventor. O’Halloran is a chemistry and cell biology professor with an emphasis on metalloproteins.

Other investors in Viamet include Intersouth Partners in Durham, which helped incubate the firm, plus Lilly Ventures, Hatteras Venture Partners, Lurie Investment Fund and Astellas Venture Management.

“Viamet’s Metallophile Technology is a powerful platform that enables the rapid and cost-effective generation of best-in-class metalloenzyme inhibitors,” said Lauren Silverman, managing director of Novartis Option Fund. “Metalloenzymes are a large class of enzymes, many of which are closely related, and finding inhibitors that are potent yet selective for a specific metalloenzyme can be very challenging. Viamet’s Metallophile Technology offers the potential for the discovery and development of superior metalloenzyme inhibitors with improved safety and efficacy.”