Transatlantic alliance sets up son of Spirogen to develop ADC tech

A few of the key players behind Spirogen have hooked up to create a biotech focused on developing the next generation of antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). The new company, Femtogenix, is aiming to replicate the success of Spirogen by reconnecting co-founder David Thurston and financier Research Corporation Technologies (RCT).

David Thurston

Thurston and RCT both played pivotal roles in the early years of Spirogen, which set it up to ultimately attract a $440 million takeover offer from AstraZeneca ($AZN). Now, Thurston, RCT and others linked to Spirogen have decided to take another crack at building an ADC-focused biotech. Thurston has signed up as co-founder and CSO of Femtogenix, the same roles he held when Spirogen got started 15 years ago. Similarly, RCT, which was involved with the early financing of Spirogen through a VC shop it set up, is central to the creation of Femtogenix and is providing Series A funds to the startup.

The Spirogen connection is evident in other areas, too. Femtogenix CEO Chris Keightley was managing director of Cambridge Research BioVentures--the VC shop set up by RCT--when it led the £1 million ($1.5 million) round that got Spirogen up and running in 2001, although neither he nor Thurston was still involved with the biotech at the time of its sale to AstraZeneca. The chance to pair a team with a track record of success with ADC science that has emerged since the founding of Spirogen has excited those involved with Femtogenix. "Early indications are that these new molecules will address the needs of those wanting to make the next generation of ADCs," Keightley said in a statement.

Keightley's optimism is underpinned by the research Thurston has performed at King's College London alongside Khondaker Miraz Rahman and Paul Jackson, both of whom are scientific co-founders of Femtogenix. Jackson spent his PhD and postdoctoral research career developing computational methods to design and evaluate ADC payloads. The fruits of this work have fed into the payload discovery platform being deployed by Femtogenix, which the company thinks can uncover ADCs free from some of the problems that have blighted the field to date.

Femtogenix is specifically looking to discover payloads that, when paired to third-party conjugating technologies, stay attached right up to the point at which the ADC reaches the target cancer cells. This is the idea behind all ADCs, but premature release has led to systemic toxicity in the past. If the discovery platform used by Femtogenix works as the team expects, the DNA-interactive payloads it designs will be closer to the ADC ideal.

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