Zymeworks pockets $15M, woos Lilly with its double-barreled antibodies

Vancouver, Canada's Zymeworks has its eyes on a big 2014, signing up with Eli Lilly ($LLY) to lend out its cancer-targeting platform and raising $15 million to advance oncology candidates of its own.

First, the funding: Zymeworks has raked in $12 million in a common share offering and expects to close another $3 million in commitments in the near term. That cash, from undisclosed new and existing shareholders, will help the biotech push some early-stage cancer therapies into the IND stage, CEO Ali Tehrani said.

Zymeworks is targeting breast cancer and other solid tumors along with hematological ailments like leukemia and lymphoma, he said, and lighting the way is Azymetric, the company's bispecific antibody platform that allows a single drug to target two antigens and induce a synergistic immune response.

Azymetric's promise was enough to convince Lilly subsidiary ImClone, which has lined up to license the platform to develop an undisclosed number of bispecific antibody cancer drugs of its own. Under the deal, Lilly gets a worldwide license to the technology and commercial rights to any antibodies derived from the partnership, while Zymeworks snags an undisclosed upfront fee, research support, milestone payments and royalties on future sales.

Back in 2011, Merck ($MRK) reached out to Zymeworks on the strengths of its bispecific antibody technology in a deal worth up to $187 million, and today's jolt of investor confidence and Big Pharma faith is a further testament to the company's potential, Tehrani said.

"Moreover, with the completion of this financing and the recent announcement of our collaboration with Eli Lilly and Company, we're excited about what 2014 has in store for Zymeworks," Tehrani said in a statement.

- read the financing announcement
- check out the Lilly release