Third Rock­'s Am­bys hauls $140M for liv­er dis­ease, ink­ing Take­da deal ahead of launch

It won’t shock any­one that a new com­pa­ny has rolled off Third Rock’s start­up con­vey­or belt (this VC firm is a ma­chine at cre­at­ing new com­pa­nies), but their lat­est ven­ture is leap­ing off the start line with a dis­tinct ad­van­tage: $140 mil­lion in launch mon­ey and a rare deal with Big Phar­ma part­ner Take­da.

The new com­pa­ny is called Am­bys Med­i­cines, chris­tened af­ter the Mex­i­can sala­man­der famed for re­gen­er­at­ing limbs: Am­bystoma mex­i­canum. You guessed it, the com­pa­ny will be work­ing in re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine.

Jeff Tong

I spoke with Third Rock’s ven­ture part­ner Jeff Tong, who’s serv­ing as in­ter­im CEO for the time be­ing, about the com­pa­ny’s tech. He said they’ve li­censed a smat­ter­ing of re­search from the labs of Am­bys’ sci­en­tif­ic founders, and are build­ing an in-house R&D unit led by a cou­ple of in­ter­im Third Rock vets sit­ting in as ex­ecs.

Mar­tin Burke

The com­pa­ny is tack­ling three dif­fer­ent av­enues in liv­er dis­ease: a cell ther­a­py plat­form, a gene ther­a­py, and gain-of-func­tion small mol­e­cules. Tong said it was im­per­a­tive that Am­bys pur­sue all three ar­eas at once. This is part of the rea­son they de­cid­ed to part­ner with Take­da — to get a big chunk of cash that would sup­port its am­bi­tious R&D plans.

“It will al­low us to pur­sue the three ar­eas si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly,” Tong said. “They’re all am­bi­tious, and run­ning them in par­al­lel is very im­por­tant.”

Markus Grompe

He says many young biotechs make the fa­tal mis­take of fun­nel­ing all their cash in­to the first pro­gram that shows big promise. “It sucks all the re­sources out of the com­pa­ny, and then the oth­er pro­grams — even though they’re al­so promis­ing — die on the line,” he said.

So Am­bys and Third Rock de­signed a deal with Take­da that brought an in­fu­sion of cap­i­tal to the com­pa­ny’s launch. Here’s the de­tails: Take­da chipped in $100 mil­lion up­front (in­clud­ing par­tic­i­pat­ing in the com­pa­ny’s $60 mil­lion Se­ries A round), bring­ing Am­bys’ launch cash to $140 mil­lion to­tal. In re­turn, Take­da will get an op­tion for ex-US rights for the first four prod­ucts — what­ev­er they may be — that reach IND at Am­bys. If Take­da choos­es to ex­er­cise those op­tions, then the phar­ma gi­ant al­so coughs up 50% of the de­vel­op­ment costs and some mile­stone pay­ments come in­to play.

Juan Car­los Izpisua Bel­monte

A key win in the deal, though, is that Am­bys has a tight grip on US rights.

“We see many ex­cit­ing deals be­ing struck with sig­nif­i­cant up­fronts, but the chal­lenge for many is they give up world­wide rights on at least the first pro­gram if not more. To con­trol the com­pa­ny’s des­tiny, you must have US rights,” Tong said.

Hol­ger Wil­len­bring

Sci­en­tif­ic founders at Am­bys in­clude Mar­tin Burke of Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois, Markus Grompe at Ore­gon Health & Sci­ence Uni­ver­si­ty, Juan Car­los Izpisua Bel­monte at the Salk, and Hol­ger Wil­len­bring from UCSF. The com­pa­ny’s ex­ec­u­tive team in­cludes Third Rock’s Jef­frey Fin­er (CTO) and Glenn Pierce (CMO), along­side Michael Holmes as CSO and Stan­ley Hol­len­back as SVP of phar­ma­col­o­gy.


Im­age: SHUT­TER­STOCK

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Adeno-associated virus-1 illustration; the use of AAVs resurrected the gene therapy field, but companies are now testing the limits of a 20-year-old technology (File photo, Shutterstock)

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Paulk, who runs a gene therapy lab at the University of California, San Francisco, had planned to spend the day listening to talks at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, which was taking place that week. Instead, she skipped the conference, canceled every work call on her calendar and began phoning colleagues across academia and industry, trying to figure out what happened and why. All the while, a single name hung in the back of her head.

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Eli Lil­ly demon­strates that 2 an­ti­bod­ies beat 1 for guard­ing against se­vere Covid-19. But can that solve the first an­ti­body’s prob­lem amid slow up­take?

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George Yancopoulos (L) and Len Schleifer (Regeneron)

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Below, you’ll find the companies that have filed to go public, in addition to those that have already priced. Through the first two business weeks of January, there have already been 9 biotechs that have filed or priced, and the number is only expected to grow. We’ll keep the tracker updated as it does.