RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Durham-based biotechnology startup Tavros Therapeutics will partner with Bayer AG subsidiary Vividion Therapeutics to find new targets and treatments for cancer.

The two companies said they have inked a collaborative agreement to pursue four oncology targets over a five-year period. Under the terms of the deal, Tavros will get $17.5 million in cash upfront from Vividion and also be eligible for $403.5 million in potential future payments if certain preclinical, clinical development and commercial milestones are met. Tavros also may receive low-single-digit royalties on sales of certain potential programs.


Vividion has the option to go after up to five more targets, with as much as $482 million in potential future payments.

Tavros was launched in 2020 by Duke University molecular cancer biology graduate Eoin McDonnell, Ph.D., and Kris Wood, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke. The emerging biotech company uses a high-throughput functional genomics discovery platform to find unique weaknesses in cancer cells, which are exposed through drug treatment. By uncovering these genetic vulnerabilities within tumors, Tavros can then target the right drug combination to the right patients to more effectively treat the cancer.

The company – which focuses on areas of high unmet clinical need – said the goal is to improve patient outcomes, while lessening the toxicity of treatments and increasing the speed of development.

Vividion tackles proteins linked to disease but historically hard to treat. These proteins are difficult for small molecule drugs to latch onto and are often considered undruggable. The company uses a fragment-based screening platform to covalently tag reactive cysteine residues on proteins to find previously unknown or overlooked footholds that small molecules can take advantage of.

 Eoin McDonnell, Ph.D.
 Eoin McDonnell, Ph.D.

The Vividion/Tavros partnership will allow Tavros to expand its precision oncology platform to new targets by paring Vividion’s ability to “drug the traditionally undruggable,” said Tavros CEO and co-founder McDonnell. “We’re thrilled to launch our work with Vividion and harness our combined expertise to reach patients with difficult-to-treat cancers by uncovering and drugging the next generation of high-value targets and augmenting the efficiency of emerging compounds.”

Vividion CEO Jeffrey Hatfield noted that, after decades of effort, “many targets remain inaccessible to traditional small molecule drugs, and many others have uncertain relevance to disease. This collaboration brings together two orthogonal, highly innovative and synergistic approaches to drug discovery that will address both of these challenges.”

Vividion, based in San Diego, California, was acquired by Bayer in 2021. It operates as a wholly owned and independently operated subsidiary of the global healthcare and agricultural giant.

Tavros just completed a $7.5 million oversubscribed Seed II financing at the end of September, which was co-led by Piedmont Capital Investments and KdT Ventures. Piedmont Capital also provided $3 million in funding to help launch the company in 2020.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center