Based: San Diego, CA
Why It's Fierce: Ambrx is a young biotech with a long record of research behind it. For 17 years, Dr. Peter Schultz studied the inner working of proteins at The Scripps Research Institute. His challenge was overcoming the considerable obstacles that block a protein from becoming a therapeutic. What he came up with was a way to insert an amino acid into a cell, redesigning it in such a way as to give it a therapeutic quality. Out of that research came Ambrx, an 18-month-old hard charger that has taken a novel amino acid and wrapped it around a protein, "like a Velcro strip," so it could conjugate with a small molecule, toxin, polymer, etc. to carry on its medicinal work, Dr. Schultz allied himself with Richard DiMarchi (now CEO), a former vice president at Eli Lilly and the inventor of fast-acting insulin, and Troy Wilson (the chief business officer) in the creation of Ambrx. Their first product is a human growth hormone engineered to work at a superior level. The three wooed Dr. Tom Daniel -- a former research v.p. at Amgen -- to become chief scientific officer. Their second venture round in March ginned $24.45 million, bringing their total to $36 million. And the upstart is looking to ink partnerships both for the molecules it develops with its technology as well as licensing deals for other drug developers who see the value in using that technology in their own development work.
What to look for: An IND should be filed in the second half of '06 and new partnerships are in the offing. There's a second protein in the preclinical stage, but it's still under wraps. Look for a third VC round in the second half of '06 and some interesting partnerships currently in negotiations.