AstraZeneca backs $80M round for ADC's antibody warhead tech

ADC CEO Chris Martin

Back in 2013, Chris Martin helped arrange the sale of the U.K.-based Spirogen to AstraZeneca ($AZN) in a $440 million deal, a package deal that included his services for the big AZ subsidiary MedImmune for the next 18 months. But back in June he made the leap back into biotech, taking the helm at Spirogen spinoff ADC Therapeutics, where he's been working on a next-gen armed antibody pipeline. And he's just followed up with a whopping $80 million venture round that's designed to get the cancer company through the next three years--and possibly on into an IPO along the way.

Founding investor Auven Therapeutics came back for this round, alongside the pharma giant and the European family office of HP Wild Holding AG. After that, the investors turned quiet.

"We also had institutional new money, top level international biotech specialists, who I can't name," Martin tells FierceBiotech. Regardless of where it comes from, though, the money "will take us out well into 2018," he adds, which is enough runway to ponder the right timing for an IPO.

Antibody-drug conjugates are a well-defined space in the biotech industry, with leaders like Seattle Genetics advancing a combination of antibodies linked with potent cancer cell killers. The whole idea is to drop a drug payload right where it's required, and ADC has been singled out for its work on pyrrolobenzodiazepine warheads, which it considers a step up in punching power from chemotherapies.

As of now, ADC Therapeutics has one of its conjugates--ADCT-301--in a Phase I study, where it's looking for early signs of efficacy in lymphoma and leukemia. Another IND is being lined up for a Q4 filing with plans to use the cash to get 7 more ADCs into the clinic by mid-2017. And the biotech is collaborating with MedImmune on two programs.

ADC Therapeutics is based in lovely Lausanne, Switzerland. But even with a staff of just 25, it has staked a claim to a global rep. Considerable preclinical research is done in London, clinical-stage efforts are based in New Jersey and manufacturing is centered in South San Francisco. The whole idea there is to go where you can find the best talent, says Martin.

There have been some big improvements for the European biotech scene in recent years, he adds.

"I'd say the quality of the investors is pretty solid now," says the CEO, though it's nothing like the depth or breadth for capital like the U.S. has right now. Still, it's better times than the continent has known for years, and ADC is taking full advantage of the upswing.