Collaborations, Deals

Following key late-stage advances, BeiGene puts down $10M to get some discovery projects rolling at Ambrx

Searching for a bigger spot for itself in the global market weeks after becoming the first Chinese biotech to nab an FDA “breakthrough” designation, BeiGene has enlisted the protein engineers at Ambrx to add some discovery projects to its cancer pipeline.

The partners are painting the deal in broad strokes, but they are clear about the $10 million San Diego-based Ambrx is getting to kickstart the collaboration. Its ability to insert tRNA/tRNA synthetase pairs into cell lines, the company says, means it can empower therapeutic proteins by placing non-natural amino acids at precise positions. That lends itself to applications in both first-in-class conjugates and optimized peptides, monoclonal antibodies and bi- or multi-specific meds.

John Oyler

Any drug candidates arising from this pact — they didn’t say how many or what kind — will be turned over to BeiGene for global development and commercialization. Another $19 million is on the table should BeiGene choose to start new programs, and in the perfect scenario Ambrx stands to receive $446 million plus royalties.

“We believe that by incorporating this site-specific conjugation technology, we can further broaden BeiGene’s portfolio of next-generation biologics,” said BeiGene CEO John Oyler in a statement.

Currently marketing Celgene’s Revlimid, Abraxane and Vidaza in China, BeiGene is gunning for a quick OK in the country for their PD-1 tislelizumab in treatment-resistant classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

But it’s set its sights beyond that, having recently posted remarkable data suggesting tislelizumab stands a chance against the six FDA-approved checkpoints. And then there’s zanubrutinib, the Phase III “breakthrough” Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor billed as a potential rival for J&J’s Imbruvica.

Meanwhile, Ambrx is also developing an in-house antibody-drug conjugate for breast and gastric cancer at the same time it’s collecting modest partnership dollars from the likes of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Astellas.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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