CEO Gerngross Says Deals Around Adimab’s Yeast-Based Antibody Discovery Technology Are Progressing

2/19/09

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six weeks, Gerngross says, compared with the several months it can take other methods to isolate such antibodies. “It affords you speed that nobody can even get close to,” he says.

Gerngross—whose other jobs are professor of engineering at nearby Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH and venture partner at SV Life Sciences—declined to name names of big pharma firms in talks with Adimab. He says that his firm is performing discovery work for the firms as a service to demonstrate the value of the technology. Later plans include licensing the technology to select companies for their own use.

Adimab’s strategy differs from that of other biotechs with new drug-discovery technologies, which often raise capital and gain fees through licensing deals to fund internal efforts to commercialize their own drugs. That strategy requires firms to raise more money than Adimab will need from its investors, says Gerngross, who takes great pride in efficient use of capital. (There’s a $150,000 cap on all salaries at Adimab, which makes up for that low pay ceiling by awarding workers with more company stock, he says.)

Gerngross’s track record on the capital-efficiency front may speak for itself. He says the last biotech startup he co-founded, Lebanon-based GlycoFi, raised a total of $32 million to develop its yeast-based technology for discovering protein drugs. Then Whitehouse Station, NJ-based Merck bought GlycoFi for $400 million, providing terrific returns to its investors such as Polaris, SV Life Sciences, and Borealis—all three of which are backing Adimab. Adimab’s other scientific cofounder, K. Dane Wittrup, a chemical engineering professor at MIT, co-founded a biotech firm called Biodisplay that was sold to healthcare giant Abbott Laboratories in 2001.

“Tillman is a brilliant guy and I describe him as a force of nature,” says Terry McGuire, managing general partner at Waltham, MA-based Polaris and a director at Adimab. “He’s a very savvy academic entrepreneur, so when you put that all together [Polaris's investment in Adimab] was absolutely a bet worth making.”

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