Ex-Amgen team nabs $14M from Merck, Gates Foundation for cheap biologics

A syringe held in two hands

Breakthrough biologics aren’t for everyone. They’re typically priced so that their use is confined to insured patients in the United States and Europe--in addition to wealthy self-pay patients around the world. A Seattle startup, known as Just Biotherapeutics, is working to change that with a team lifted from major biologics and biosimilar player Amgen ($AMGN) as well as major financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The company just closed a $14M Series A2 round led by the Gates Foundation with $8 million with $2 million of participation from each of these existing investors: Merck, Lilly Asia Ventures and ARCH Venture Partners. That’s in addition to a $15 million Series A that it closed last September--and a grant worth up to $24 million over four years from the Gates Foundation to develop low cost monoclonal antibody technologies and to develop a sequence of anti-HIV antibodies for low cost manufacture.

The new cash commitment is earmarked to build a laboratory, pilot plant and manufacturing capabilities.

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“With this infusion of capital we will complete the buildout of our integrated lab infrastructure and add critical pilot plant and GMP manufacturing capabilities to Just,” said the company’s co-founder and CEO Jim Thomas in a statement.

He previously was the VP of Process and Product Development in the Translational Sciences R&D organization at Amgen. An additional four out of five named executive team members at Just Biotherapeutics also hail from Amgen.

Potential biosimilar approvals are starting to line-up at the FDA, where the first one was approved just last year. But biosimilars don’t promise much in the way of cost-reduction--typically on the order of only about 15% to 35%. So, other approaches might prove more useful to making biologics more readily available to patients globally.

Founded in 2014, Just Biotherapeutics aims to reduce the costs that restrict access to therapeutic proteins for most patients who need them. It’s focused specifically on innovative design solutions to create better therapeutic molecules at more efficient manufacturing plants. The startup aims not just to make products from the developing world, but for also for use in developed nations.

- here is the release

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