Private equity player pumping $50M into cancer drug startup

The private equity group Celtic Therapeutics is committing $50 million to launch a startup biotech company with an international flavor and a mission to develop a portfolio of new antibody-drug-conjugates (ADCs) for cancer. Based in Switzerland with U.S. advisers and British technology, the newly hatched ADC Therapeutics enters the world with plans for 10 ADC programs targeting a broad range of cancers.

The fledgling biotech is backed by Spirogen, a U.K. ADC company controlled by Celtic, with another British outfit--Cancer Research Technology--coming in as a shareholder. Samuel Broder, the former director of the U.S. Cancer Research Institute, and Barrie Ward, the former CEO of kuDOS, are stepping in as advisers. Together they will help shape a company that intends to take a plunge into one of the hottest spaces in drug development: "Weaponizing" antibodies with therapeutic payloads that can be dropped precisely on specific tumor cells. 

ADC Therapeutics' business plan fits neatly into Celtic's approach to biotechnology. The biotech plans to push antibody-drug-conjugates to Phase II proof-of-concept data and then farm them out to Big Pharma. 

"We believe that ADCs will represent a significant medical breakthrough in cancer therapy over the coming decade, and that Spirogen's PBDs (proprietary pyrrolobenzodiazepines 'payload' technology) constitute 'best-in-class' ADC warheads," says Celtic co-founder Stephen Evans-Freke. "We anticipate investment of up to $50 million into ADC Therapeutics to achieve clinical proof of concept in 2-3 lead oncology programs. We are committed to fully fund ADC Therapeutics and will raise additional capital if warranted."

Biotechs like Seattle Genetics ($SGEN) and ImmunoGen ($IMGN) have enjoyed considerable success developing significant new ADCs. Those pioneers have set the stage for new players like ADC Therapeutics to come along with plans for wheeling and dealing with pharma companies actively focused on the cancer drug market.  

- here's the press release