UPDATED: Adimab, Mersana strike deal to make antibody-drug combos for pharma

Biotech startups Adimab and Mersana Therapeutics have formed an alliance to provide pharma companies one-stop shopping for coveted antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). The unique partnership enables drugmakers to tap Adimab's discovery engine for antibodies tailored to fit with Mersana's next-generation tech that links the biologics and small molecule drugs to its proprietary polymer.

Roche/Genentech ($RHHBY), Sanofi ($SNY) and other pharma powers have pushed ahead with development of new ADCs, making the muscled antibodies among the hottest commodities in biotech and rolling the disease-targeting prowess of an antibody with the knockout blow of a small molecule into a single compound. Adimab has amassed a prolific roster of Big Pharma customers for its antibody discovery shop, yet its pact with Mersana strengthens the Lebanon, NH-based biotech's footing in the hot ADC arena. Mersana also gains a new window into Big Pharma partnerships, which figure to be a key ingredient to advancing the company's drugs and tech, CEO Nicholas Bacopoulos told FierceBiotech yesterday.

"Now someone can come to us and say, 'Hey, I want the package.' And they don't have to go back and forth and negotiate between two parties," Adimab CEO Tillman Gerngross said in a phone interview. "We can give them everything."

Adimab and Mersana have agreed to share the spoils of their joint work with pharma partners roughly 50-50, Gerngross says. And the simplicity of providing pharmas with a single source of ADCs works both ways for the two biotechs. The deal allows Mersana to offer its partners access to Adimab's discovery platform without those partners having to enter talks with Adimab. Adimab, which is often secretive about the exact financial terms of its pharma deals, has previously announced collaborations with Novartis ($NVS), Roche, Merck ($MRK), Novo Nordisk ($NVO), Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and several other major outfits.

Now both Mersana and Adimab can pursue big fish in the pharma sea with soup-to-nuts ADC offerings, but no such deals that tap the technologies of the two companies have materialized, according to Gerngross.

Mersana has thus far reported one pharma deal related to its work in ADCs, a potential $270 million pact with Endo Pharmaceuticals ($ENDP). Bacopoulos said yesterday, before the Adimab partnership was announced, that other tie-ups with drugmakers are in the works. The deal comes a day after Cambridge, MA-based Mersana announced a $27 million Series A-1 round led by New Enterprise Associates, funding the biotech's full on move into development of ADCs to treat cancer. Founded by startup creation firm PureTech Ventures and others, Mersana has beefed up research of the armed antibodies in recent years and has spent a decade or so developing its Fleximer polymer tech for delivering a variety of drugs.

- here's the release

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Editor's Note: Updated with quotes from an interview with Adimab CEO Tillman Gerngross.