German pharma Bayer has signed a $100 million deal with Dewpoint Therapeutics to jointly pursue biomolecular condensates for drug discovery. The companies will combine Dewpoint’s condensates expertise with Bayer’s small-molecules library to discover drugs for heart diseases and gynecological indications.

Biomolecular condensates are liquid-like droplets of proteins and RNA that form in the cell, through a process called liquid–liquid phase separation, to speed up or slow down reactions. They are transient, membraneless structures that coalesce and then dissolve in the cellular cytoplasm and nucleus. Scientists have known about them for more than 100 years, but a growing body of research suggests that they also have critical roles in health and disease.

Interest in these so-called membraneless organelles has largely been catalyzed by links between these structures and the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Researchers have found that proteins linked to ALS form condensates, and mutations in these proteins can make the condensates more viscous than usual. Sticky biomolecular condensates, moreover, can drive the formation of the inclusion bodies that are a hallmark of the disease. Biomolecular condensate biology has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy and cancer.

Dewpoint became the first company to publicly stake out a claim in this space, raising $60 million in series A funding in January 2019 to work on neurodegenerative and cancer applications. Dewpoint and Bayer are still deciding what targets to work on. But biomolecular condensate biology provides opportunities both to identify entirely novel targets and to think about new ways of modulating known but previously intractable targets, says Amir Nashat, CEO of Dewpoint and managing partner at venture capital fund Polaris Partners. “We're going to start out very open minded and explore both options.” A few other firms focusing on biomolecular condensates are expected to launch soon.