Fierce 15 Winner

Based: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 2001

The Scoop: "Archemix is convinced that aptamers are the equal of antibodies, and they're beginning to turn a lot of people in biotechnology into believers. If they're right, their string of partnership deals will just be the beginning."

What makes it Fierce: It's no surprise that antibodies have been one of the big stories of this year. But Archemix is doing a lot to shift the focus to the promise of aptamers.

Aptamers are nucleotides that bind to proteins with specificity. "The best way to communicate it," says Archemix CEO Dr. Errol DeSouza, "is that we can do anything antibodies do but stay in the chemistry space. Much of what we go after is the same as antibodies."

Their science has proved a potent lure for some of the major pharma players. In a period of six months, Archemix inked four collaborations, most recently with Merck KGaA in oncology. It's not hard to see what's attracting these groups. Aptamers can be chemically synthesized, giving them a cost advantage over the biologically expressed antibodies. And aptamers' binding qualities make them applicable to a wide range of therapeutic development programs.

Based on its ability to strike deals with major companies, Archemix has been able to become cash flow positive. "We closed the books in '06 with more money ($37 million) than we had three years ago," says DeSouza. "The business model is working." And a deal with a major oncology player is looming, he adds, which allows Archemix to keep a 50 percent U.S. co-marketing stake. That's in line with Archemix's plans to retain downstream product rights rather than rely on a schedule of milestones and royalties on products it out-licenses.

"I don't want to turn us into a service organization," says DeSouza. "These deals have to be strategic. In 2007 we have a slate of four major partners; every single one will not have hooks into us. Even the strategic deal I alluded to is not an exclusive deal."

Archemix isn't just focused on deals. It has five compounds in development, including its lead therapy: ARC1779. The therapy is intended to reduce platelet aggregation and thrombosis by inhibition of von Willebrand Factor.

"With 1779, given that it's in area like acute coronary syndrome, with a bigger Phase III, our strategy is to fund it through proof of concept and then do an ex-US deal, and that should pay for the bulk of the cost for Phase III."

What to look for: DeSouza says the company will look to the public markets in the near term, but doesn't rule out a possible buyout, either.


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