Pfizer licenses antibody tech from Atlas-backed startup Harbour

Harbour Antibodies has added to a list of pharma partners for its transgenic mouse technology for producing human antibodies. Pfizer ($PFE) has licensed the company's mice for research of monoclonal antibody drugs, without restrictions on the therapeutic areas the pharma giant can pursue. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

Harbour bundled the Pfizer news together with the announcements of a $3.3 million round of financing led by Cambridge, MA-based Atlas Venture and the appointment of BJ Bormann as CEO of the startup. Bormann says that Atlas began recruiting her to the startup, which is based in the Rotterdam, The Netherlands, last year while she was working for Boehringer Ingelheim as senior executive in business development. She had met Atlas Partner Bruce Booth years ago when she worked for Pfizer and Booth was a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Atlas Partner Peter Barrett has taken on the role of chairman of Harbour's board of directors.

Founded in 2006, Harbour has been developing and commercializing transgenic mice for antibody research from the lab of company co-founder and chief scientist Prof. Frank Grosveld at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam. Rather than develop its own drugs, Harbour focuses on licensing the mice to other drug research outfits, and so far the takers include Eli Lilly ($LLY), ChemPartner and most recently Pfizer. These companies are seeking an edge in developing new monoclonal antibodies, which have fueled some of the fastest-growing pharma franchises in oncology, autoimmune disease and other disease areas.

"The intent is to" license the mice "to anybody who has a good idea for a patient therapy. We're going to be licensing in very affordable, flexible terms to all these institutions," Bormann told FierceBiotech. "My goal is to commoditize these [mice] in such a way that in 10 years from now the industry will have a whole new portfolio of antibody-based therapies available to patients."

Bormann plans to run the business side of the company from Atlas' office in Cambridge, MA, while Grosveld spearheads research in Rotterdam.

Human antibody-making mice have been hot commodities in the biopharma industry. Such technology has enabled Regeneron ($REGN) to land a major collaboration with Sanofi ($SNY), for example. And drugmakers have locked up some of the pioneering technology in the field: Amgen ($AMGN) did so in the acquisition of Abgenix for $2.2 billion in 2006, and then Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) followed suit with the 2009 buyout of Medarex for $2.4 billion.

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