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.


Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.