Based: Cambridge, MA
CEO: Steven Tregay
The Scoop: Back in June, Genentech unveiled a pact to nab the global rights to a preclinical cancer drug at Forma. No numbers were included in the release, but the collaboration bore all the usual hallmarks of an early-stage pact: an upfront fee, some research funding and milestones.
A few things about the deal, though, really stood out. One is that Genentech--a global powerhouse in the cancer field--was looking to Forma for an injection of discovery magic with one of the biotech's potential tumor-starving compounds. Another unusual feature was Genentech's buyout clause. Rather than pay out royalties over the years for any successful product--an event that would lay some years ahead--Forma stands to gain an acquisition fee that would be paid out to investors, giving them a return before any classic exit point.
What Makes It Fierce: For Forma, it was a model for future deals as well as the latest in a string of such agreements with prominent players. Eisai joined up last year, committing to $20 million in funding over three years. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society signed a discovery pact the same year, and Novartis ($NVS) inked two collaborations of its own, including a $200 million deal on cancer with the pharma giant's option fund.
Tregay used to run the Novartis Option Fund, a relationship that got Forma started in good company after the startup combined his deal-making skills with some discovery brains at the Broad Institute. Since its launch three years ago, the biotech has raised $33 million in venture dollars and another $45 million in partner cash--including an early $14 million windfall from Cubist.
For the dealmeister, it's been a promising start as he takes Forma's prolific discovery engine--what he calls the golden goose--and harvests fresh golden eggs. It also helps validate Forma's strategy: creating a full-fledged discovery group specializing in cancer metabolism with an impressive high-throughput screening system.
Forma now has about 100 staffers at its Cambridge headquarters as well as research facilities in Connecticut and Singapore. That kind of organization--unusual in a biotech industry in which virtual is often considered virtuous--requires a big burn rate, but also delivers a steady stream of new drug candidates.
"We are a broad drug-discovery engine able to create multiple programs," says the CEO. The Genentech pact "hopefully will be the first of many types of opportunities. Because of the breadth of our technology we can do broad target deals and have our own pipeline moving forward."
Venture Backers: Lilly Ventures, Novartis Option Fund, and Bio*One Capital.