Celgene antes up $35M, snags buyout option on VentiRx cancer work

In another sign of immunotherapies' trendy status in biotech, Seattle-based VentiRx Pharmaceuticals has scooped up a deal with Celgene ($CELG) on its lead cancer program, which is paying $35 million upfront for a ringside seat while reserving an exclusive option to buy the company. 

VentiRx, a 2010 Fierce 15 company, is prepping a pair of ambitious studies for VTX-2337. The first will be a combination study with docetaxel for ovarian cancer with the second--a combination with rituximab--aimed at head and neck cancer. For VentiRx the deal with Celgene provides R&D support for the proof-of-concept stage. Celgene is committed to a set of unspecified milestones and the biotech is also staying quiet about just how much Celgene might be willing to pay for the company if it all works out.

VentiRx has concentrated its work on toll-like receptor 8 agonists, activating human myeloid dendritic cells in an anti-tumor effort aimed at amping up the effectiveness of chemotherapy. 

"Some initial attempts viewed immunotherapies as a standalone," says CEO Robert Hershberg. "Combinations are the focus now."

It won't be quick, though. Hershberg estimates that it will take four years to push through this next phase of development. 

VentiRx has raised $55 million from some familiar VCs: Arch Venture Partners, Domain Associates, Frazier Healthcare Ventures and MedImmune Ventures. And the biotech has concentrated on staying lean and mean, with a virtual staff of 10. The biotech closed a San Diego office last year and opted to shelve an allergy program along the way.

- here's the release

Special Report: Celgene - The Biggest R&D Spenders in Biotech

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