The Small Molecule Drug Discovery Renaissance: Jeff Jonker on The Long Run

Today’s guest is on The Long Run is Jeff Jonker.

He’s the CEO of San Diego-based Belharra Therapeutics.

Jeff Jonker, CEO, Belharra Therapeutics

It’s a startup that came out of stealth mode in January 2023 with a $50 million Series A financing from Versant Ventures, and a partnership with Genentech. I wrote about it at the time on TimmermanReport.com and am providing a link for subscribers in the show notes.

The investment is supporting a new method for discovering traditional small molecule chemical compounds that make up the majority of drugs. Belharra is based on scientific work at Scripps Research in San Diego. Scientists there envisioned a way of discovering new targets on proteins that small molecules can hit.

Small molecules sometimes tend to get upstaged because they have been around for so long. Scientists tend to get excited about new treatment paradigms, like cell therapy, gene therapy, gene editing, antibody-drug conjugates, targeted radiotherapies and more. But when scientists can discover a new way of binding with a diseased protein, and they can do it with a convenient pill that patients can take by mouth, that can be a compelling thing. Advances in small molecule chemistry like have opened up new targets, like KRAS, a protein found in many types of cancer that was long considered “undruggable” but is now quite druggable.

Jeff comes to this opportunity after a long career in biotech business development. We talk about the circumstances that allowed him to get into the industry with a legal background, how he thinks about partnering, and some of the current challenges in developing this type of treatment.

Now, please join me and Jeff Jonker on The Long Run.

Note to listeners in the Boston/Cambridge area:

I’m going to be in town Jan. 23 for a big event for the Timmerman Traverse for Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

It’s called “Bridging the Gap,” and it’s organized by Soufiane Aboulhouda, a member of my next Kilimanjaro team that’s on a mission to raise $1 million for cancer research. I’ll moderate a conversation with Phil Sharp of MIT and Vicki Sato of Denali Therapeutics and VIR Biotechnology. This event is a fundraiser for Damon Runyon’s national network of bold and brave young cancer researchers. An outstanding lineup of scientists and entrepreneurs make this a can’t miss event. Get your tickets now! 

Register today 

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