With IPO in mind, cancer player CytomX steps up with a $70M round

CytomX CEO Sean McCarthy

Six months after nailing down a $20 million series C led by Pfizer ($PFE), a group of crossover investors have backed a $70 million follow-up round for South San Francisco-based CytomX, a cancer-focused biotech with next-gen antibody tech that is positioning itself as a player at the crossroads of two of the hottest fields in oncology R&D.

CytomX CEO Sean McCarthy is quick to acknowledge that a company like his, working to build a pipeline of partnered and in-house therapeutics, is going to look to the public markets at some stage. Just don't ask him when.

"We're not commenting on timing," he says flatly, when pressed on the IPO scenario.

McCarthy is much more eager to talk about the biotech's pipeline plans. High-profile partnerships with Bristol-Myers Squibb (a $1.24 billion deal with $50 million upfront for a group of targets that includes CTLA-4) and Pfizer (a two-year-old pact worth up to $635 million) provided serious industry credibility for the company, which was founded with tech from the University of California Santa Barbara. Building those partnerships was a major part of McCarthy's game plan when he came to take the helm from Nancy Stagliano, who went on to run and sell iPierian and launch True North. 

The next step is fielding home grown therapies, and CytomX is now working on IND for a PD-L1 program that should be in regulators' hands in 2016.

CytomX is a 2013 Fierce 15 company.

The biotech's main claim to fame rests on a promise to use proteases in the tumor microenvironment to activate its antibodies--dubbed Probodies by the company. The notion is that coordinating a therapeutic action with the dysregulated proteases created by cancer restricts its impact to cancer cells, leaving healthy tissue alone. And that gives CytomX a chance to position itself in the checkpoint inhibitor class, all the rage as pioneers like Merck ($MRK) and Bristol-Myers ($BMY) advance the first new therapies in this class.

There's also a play to be made in reengineered T cell therapies as well, says McCarthy, who hasn't ignored the overnight fame that awaited CAR-T companies like Juno ($JUNO) and Kite ($KITE). Probodies could play a role in enhancing the safety of these therapies while also expanding their reach beyond hematological malignancies and into solid tumors, which is widely viewed as the next frontier in that big niche. And there are future partnering prospects to consider as well--with enough money in the bank to fund operations "for the foreseeable future."

"It is amazing," says the CEO, "how everyone is partnering everything with everything else."

The financing was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company with contributions from Casdin Capital, Cormorant Asset Management, Deerfield Management, Perceptive Advisors, Redmile Group, Tekla Healthcare and Life Science Investors, Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners, Wellington Management Company "and additional undisclosed investors."

- here's the release

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2013 Fierce 15 - CytomX