Celgene to funnel $45M into startup Quanticel for targeted cancer drugs

Cancer drugmaker Celgene ($CELG) has firmed up a major multiyear deal with Stanford University spinoff Quanticel Pharmaceuticals. Under the deal, Celgene will receive access to the small firm's biomarker discovery engine and a buyout option. The deal also aids Celgene's advance on new drugs that home in on molecular weak points or targets on cancer cells, and it makes for a unique early tie-up among the big company, Quanticel and the startup's backer, Versant Ventures.

Summit, NJ-based Celgene has agreed to keep Quanticel funded with $45 million over the next three and a half years, getting an equity stake in the young firm and an option to buy the startup in the deal. Quanticel, headquartered in San Francisco, is putting its single-cell genomic analysis tech to work, analyzing patient tumor samples that could yield biomarkers for Celgene to use in developing new cancer drugs.

Celgene has taken a somewhat unique approach to investing in biotechs in the past. Agios Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA, for example, took in $130 million upfront from Celgene in a deal that made the companies close partners on developing Agios' cancer metabolism tech. In the Quanticel pact, Celgene also seems to be gaining immediate access to the startup's technology rather than passively investing in the firm with a big check.

The deal puts Quanticel on the map, with Versant Ventures and Celgene combining resources to propel the commercialization of Stanford professors Stephen Quake and Michael Clarke's work on genomic analysis technology. On top of using the tech to spot biomarkers, Quanticel wants to put the platform to work to find new drugs for cancer and other maladies, according to the company. Rarely are biotech founders able to get going like this with a potential acquirer on board.

"Aligning our financing strategy to create a startup that supports the needs of a pre-eminent global biopharmaceutical company such as Celgene should build even greater value and liquidity than the traditional biotech venture approach," Bradley Bolzon, managing director at Versant, said in a statement.

- here's the release