Genentech plucks rights to Afraxis drug assets in $187M deal

Genentech has sewn up the rights to a discovery-stage portfolio of therapeutic assets at Afraxis, a small La Jolla, CA-based biotech set up by Avalon Ventures. Primarily known for its work on Fragile X, a well-known autism target, Afraxis says that the giant Roche ($RHHBY) subsidiary will pay up to $187.5 million in milestones and an undisclosed upfront in order to develop the compounds for a "novel target."

While Afraxis didn't break down the numbers, discovery-stage asset deals are typically heavily back-ended with promises of biobucks.

The developer highlighted a Fragile X effort on autism spectrum disorders but also branched out, with the potential to include inflammatory conditions and oncology, says Jay Lichter, a partner at Avalon who founded the biotech. The deal with Genentech includes all the companies' therapeutic assets, and leaves behind a service business measuring dendritic spines, he adds. Afraxis specialized in research aimed at correcting the abnormalities in dendritic spines, which are linked to various CNS diseases. 

"I start companies, sell them and go on to the next," Lichter told FierceBiotech. Lichter also led Zacharon--a Tay Sachs disease company--which BioMarin's ($BMRN) Jean-Jacques Biename bought a couple of weeks ago for $10 million upfront and undisclosed milestones. 

In the fall of 2011 Afraxis gained some key support from the NIH for a program which targeted p21-activated kinase, a strategy that essentially looks to bolster the dendritic spine of neurons. As FierceBiotech reported at the time, the inspiration for the company came from Nobel Prize-winning scientist Susumu Tonegawa, who noted that correcting the abnormalities in dendritic spines also corrected behavioral abnormalities in mice. And that in turn inspired Avalon Ventures' Lichter to launch the biotech back in 2007

The La Jolla, CA-based venture group raised a new $200 million fund recently, after capitalizing on much bigger deals for Amira and BioVex.

- here's the press release

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