Chinese drugmakers snag antibody expert Ambrx in joint buyout

A group of Chinese biotech heavyweights are banding together to buy Ambrx, R&D partner to the likes of Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Merck ($MRK), in hopes of making the company a go-to collaborator in their native country.

Under the deal, drugmaker Fosun Pharma, CRO WuXi PharmaTech ($WX) and investors China Everbright and HOPU Investments have joined forces to acquire Ambrx, which is headquartered in San Diego. The consortium isn't disclosing a price tag, saying only that it plans to close the deal next quarter.

Ambrx has made its name crafting so-called antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), in which researchers pair toxic chemicals with targeted antibodies to treatments that can home in on tumors while sparing surrounding tissues. Beyond its stable of R&D partners, the biotech has a proprietary pipeline of ADC treatments led by ARX788, a breast cancer treatment slated to enter the clinic this year.

Ambrx's collaborators--a group that also includes Astellas, Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical--have paid the biotech more than $200 million in upfront cash and milestone payments, and the company's soon-to-be owners believe they can raise its profile in China's growing market for biotech R&D.

"Upon completion of the acquisition, Ambrx will obtain quality resources from its Chinese partners, so as to further advance the technical innovation of their research center based in the U.S., and to establish a global product development center based in China," China Everbright CEO Chen Shuang said in a statement.

Ambrx, a 2005 Fierce 15 honoree, swung for an $86 million IPO amid 2014's deluge of Wall Street debuts but later scuttled those plans and had largely remained quiet ever since.

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