After 5 quiet years, a former Scripps spinout raises $200M and announces plans to try again at an IPO
The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.
Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.
Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.
“Since mid-2018, our new management team, set on a new long term vision, has committed to building company fundamentals and transforming Ambrx from a technology developer to a full-fledged biopharmaceutical company,” CEO Feng Tian said in a statement. “The conclusion of this financing and the strong data emerging from our ongoing clinical programs, as well as our deep preclinical pipeline of proprietary drug candidates, positions the company for rapid growth.”
Ambrx spun out of Scripps Research in 20o3 and, over the next decade, racked up partnerships with Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, Astellas, and Eli Lilly, all of whom wanted to collaborate on antibody-drug conjugates or other aspects of Ambrx’s protein engineering technology.
But after Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, WuXi Pharmatech and others bought them out in 2015, the company turned its attention largely toward China. Over the following four years, they signed discovery deals with BeiGene, Suzhou-based MabSpace and Shanghai-based NovoCodex, among others.
With a $45 million private round, they also moved their first in-house drug into the clinic, a HER2 targeting antibody-drug conjugate called ARX788. Beyond ARX788, the company now lists 2 other antibody-drug conjugates and 4 different immuno-oncology antibodies in preclinical development, including a CD3 bispecific.
At the same time, antibody-drug conjugates, have garnered new excitement around the industry, as Seagen racks approval after approval with GlaxoSmithKline, Daiichi Sankyo, and Genentech all adding their own.
A couple of the molecules from some of Ambrx’s big-name partnerships remain in clinical development. Last year, Bristol Myers paid the biotech a milestone for advancing one protein into human testing for heart failure. Still, the Big Pharma has said little of the antibody they were testing in Phase II for NASH, and Astellas recently discontinued a Phase I study in acute myeloid leukemia for an Ambrx-partnered drug.
Ambrx has reached one approval, though: Imrestor, an antibody they teamed with Eli Lilly’s animal health division on, was OK’d in 2013. It boosts the immune system of dairy cows.