Adimab Strikes Antibody-Discovery Deals with Merck and Roche

6/16/09

Tillman Gerngross is wont to say that the antibody-drug discovery technology his biotech startup, Adimab, is developing is a game-changer. Now it looks like two of the largest drug companies in the world might agree—Lebanon, NH-based Adimab plans to announce today that Merck & Co. and Roche have signed on as its first research collaborators.

Merck (NYSE:MRK), based in Whitehouse Station, NJ, has tasked Adimab with using its proprietary yeast-based discovery technology to identify human antibodies for undisclosed disease targets of Merck’s choosing. Gerngross, the startup’s CEO and co-founder, says that Merck doesn’t get to use the discovery technology itself. The arrangement with Swiss drug giant Roche will work the same way, yet the key difference is that it is focused on just one undisclosed drug target. Both deals provide Adimab with upfront payments and licensing fees, as well as potential fees for achieving pre-clinical milestones. The drug companies also have the option to commercialize antibodies discovered as part of their collaborations with Adimab, making the startup eligible for additional payments. Exact financial terms weren’t disclosed.

These deals provide some commercial validation for Adimab’s technology, which Gerngross has been touting as a completely original process for discovering antibody drugs. Gerngross, who co-founded Adimab with MIT protein engineering expert K. Dane Wittrup, has made a compelling enough case for the technology to attract venture investments from Polaris Venture Partners, SV Life Sciences, Borealis Ventures, and OrbiMed Advisors. As I wrote in a story about Adimab in February, the firm is developing a simulated immune system that consists of yeast cells that are engineered to produce and present on their surfaces some 10 billion different antibodies. Researchers can use the system to identify potential new treatments by introducing disease-related molecules such as tumor proteins into to the system and seeing which antibodies bind to those targets. The system can identify antibodies for certain disease targets in matter of eight weeks, which can be several months faster than available antibody-discovery techniques, Gerngross says.

The deal with Merck represents a return to what has been a productive well for Gerngross. In 2006, Merck paid $400 million for … Next Page »

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