A stealthy biotech opens up on big R&D plans
Based: San Diego
CEO: Hamza Suria
Clinical focus: Antibodies
The scoop: AnaptysBio has some of the best collaboration partners in the business. And chances are you never heard about most of the work it's doing. AnaptysBio has probably used the word "undisclosed" more frequently in more brief, tersely written press releases than any other busy collaborator in the industry.
Back in 2010, there was a deal with Roche ($RHHBY) covering undisclosed targets and financials. A few days later Merck ($MRK) stepped up. In 2012, Celgene provided an undisclosed upfront for its deal, airily referred to as focused on oncology and inflammatory conditions. Novartis ($NVS), which almost never discusses the terms of its early-stage deals, also came on board in 2012.
What makes AnaptysBio fierce: The biotech may have kept its cards close to its vest, but today CEO Hamza Suria delights in pointing out that all the deals combined provided $20 million in partnership money to the company--nondilutive cash that has prevented the need for a new round since its $33 million raise all the way back in 2007. Most of these deals come in big-dollar packages that range from $250 million to $750 million, he says, publicly disclosing the range for the first time. That's a significant boost for a company with 40 staffers--a sizable group--which has raised a total of about $60 million. Former Calistoga CEO Carol Gallagher stepped in as chairman, acting as one of Suria's top mentors after engineering the sale of Calistoga to Gilead for up to $600 million. And two big U.S. Department of Defense partners--DARPA and DTRA--have provided additional millions after asking the biotech to apply its antibody development expertise to work on antibiowarfare programs.
Suria is more than happy to detail the company's big idea on drug development. Its scientific founders set to work brainstorming on the body's natural response to foreign invaders. The process is called somatic hypermutation.
The biotech's platform relies heavily on the work of the company's scientific founders: Michael Neuberger at Cambridge University, Matthew Scharff of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who's been working in the field for 40 years, and Nick Lydon, the former head of small-molecule drug discovery at Amgen ($AMGN).
"Out of that came a whole new world on generating therapeutic antibodies," says Suria, and new ways to create combined antibodies with the ability to bind to multiple targets.
AnaptysBio found that it could develop combined antibodies assembled on an IgG scaffold in which the tips of the Y-shaped protein could be designed to bind to multiple targets. This isn't the same thing as creating hybrid antibodies with four pincers that could be used to bind to targets, an approach Suria refers to as "Frankenbodies" that lack the kind of natural origin that can reduce their chances of misfiring in the body. These new antibodies the company makes are also easier to manufacture. And last year in a published paper the biotech reported that its scaffold technology allowed for the development of new antibodies that could remain thermostable at room temperature--which would have big implications on how they could be both manufactured and used.
"Through a combination of the money we have and the deals we're running which earn milestones, we have runway to get us basically into the clinic," Suria says. "We will require additional funding if we go long in the clinic. Our strategic mandate is to partner before we go into the clinic on immunology."
AnaptysBio now has particularly high hopes for a newly identified anti-PD-1 program for ANB011, which Suria says has some built-in advantages over the current crop of PD-1-related therapies that has now transfixed the oncology field. And it has other antibodies in development that target other immune checkpoint receptors, including TIM-3 and LAG-3, which could be used in combination with ANB011.
"We're a high-science company," adds Suria. "We're not here to be a CRO." Their partners "know us really well. We don't feel the need to go out and advertise ourselves as service providers." What prospective partners do respond to is a product pipeline, scientific value, and product value.
Investors: Novo A/S, Avalon Ventures, Frazier Healthcare Investors, Numenor Ventures, Alloy Ventures, and WS Investment.
-- John Carroll (email)