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Amgen and Kleiner Perkins team up on biotech spinoff Atara

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In the latest biotech business formed around a major drugmaker's assets, Atara Biotherapeutics has emerged with early-stage drug candidates against cancer and other serious diseases from biopharma behemoth Amgen ($AMGN). Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) is fronting the initial financing for the spinoff, and Dr. Isaac Ciechanover, a former partner at the venture firm, is leading the new drug developer.

Amgen, which will have an equity stake in Atara, has agreed to initially license 6 compounds in preclinical to Phase I development to the startup. Atara, which will have operations near Amgen's Thousand Oaks, CA, headquarters and in the Bay Area, isn't providing specifics on each of the assets, but Amgen and KPCB's release says that the new company will focus on developing new therapies in nephrology, oncology and chronic diseases. 

Like other large drugmakers, Amgen has recently retooled its R&D efforts and licensed out assets from its pipeline in the process. Atara appears to be the latest vehicle to ferry assets from Amgen through clinical trials. Amgen has also licensed ALK inhibitors to Waltham, MA-based Tesaro, another KPCB portfolio company ($TSRO), which gives Amgen the opportunity to profit from the assets without taking responsibility for development.

"Amgen is excited to partner with KPCB to help advance molecules in Amgen's pipeline that have the potential to treat serious illnesses," said Dr. Sean Harper, executive vice president of R&D at Amgen, in a statement.

For young developers the in-licensed pharma assets often come with data on the pharmacokinetics and other early validation. It can save biotech startups from years of preclinical work typically needed to usher a compound into human studies. Yet there are always questions about why the pharma out-licensors were willing to part with the assets.

Amgen and KPCB didn't disclose financial details of the Atara deal.

- here's the release

Special Report: Amgen: Late-stage focus - The Biggest R&D Spenders in Biotech

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