Based: Vienna, Austria and Cambridge, U.K.
CEO: Kevin FitzGerald
The Scoop: Everybody in the industry knows how popular antibodies have become over the past few years. Benefiting from a series of new approvals and a higher success rate than the average compound faces, it's a field that has captured the attention of every Big Pharma company around the globe. But the success of new antibodies has raised the stakes on the discovery side as developers look for a next-gen approach that can go on to target first-in-class markets ahead. Using its modular antibody technology, f-star is angling to be a player.
What Makes It Fierce: In simple language, f-star is building a much smaller but fully loaded antibody using its modular design approach. Think of it as a Mercedes coupe in a race featuring Lincoln Continentals. It can go down some hard-to-navigate biological alleys. And with fewer nuts and bolts in the works, it's easier to clarify a simplified technology for IP purposes.
There's also a second platform. F-star boasts of being able to achieve bi-specificity, meaning developers can add a binding site to a program. Add it up and f-star is both going deeper into tissue while offering a two-prong attack strategy and a long half life.
This is not your standard kind of antibody.
"We think we have strong inherent differentiation," says CEO Kevin FitzGerald (pictured), "with conventional antibodies. We're able to affect some very novel and interesting biology." (To get a better sense of what they're doing, check out their website, which has a 3-D revolving graphic.)
"There are some obvious economic advantages," FitzGerald--a founding scientist at Cambridge Antibody Technology, which was acquired by AstraZeneca ($AZN) in 2006, and founding CEO of Isogenica--says about their bi-specific approach. But what gets him really excited is the possibility of creating a novel therapeutic that can't be replicated by a standard-issue antibody.
Boehringer Ingelheim bought into the vision. The pharma giant placed several bets on f-star earlier this year with a $1.7 billion pact, which includes €180 million in payments at stake for each of seven new antibody projects.
Back in April, SR One, the venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), led a bevy of venture groups-including Mitsubishi's venture arm--on a $21 million round. That brought f-star's venture take to $49 million.
Launched close to its academic founders in Vienna, f-star expanded into Cambridge in the U.K. back in 2008, putting it squarely in one of the globe's antibody hotspots. Now with 24 workers at the biotech, FitzGerald plans to see that number grow to 30 to 35 over the next 9 to 12 months.
Venture backers: SR One, Atlas Venture (which provided the seed funding), Aescap Venture, Novo Ventures, TVM Capital, Merck Serono Ventures and MP Healthcare Venture Management.