Adimab Grows Up, Looks to Pay Off the VCs In Unusual Way

2/22/13Follow @xconomy

Adimab has raised a shade under $40 million in venture capital since it was founded in 2007. If things break the way co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross expects, this could be the year the VCs get their money bank without him going through the trouble of an IPO, or selling out to some Big Pharma company.

“This is an industry obsessed with liquidity events,” Gerngross says. “What we are doing is building a long-term, sustainable, private biotech company that is profitable.”

Adimab, the Lebanon, NH-based antibody drug discovery shop, has been laying the groundwork for the past six years to get itself in this position, to live life on independent terms the way few biotech companies ever do. Gerngross did the more traditional biotech thing at his last company, GlycoFi, a yeast-based protein production platform. That Lebanon, NH-based company raised traditional venture capital, and delivered windfall returns when it was sold to Merck for $400 million. It was the kind of experience that made it much easier for Gerngross to start another entrepreneurial venture like Adimab.

Antibody drugs, which can specifically home in on precise biological targets, have become a massive part of the biotech industry. Hit drugs like Genentech’s trastuzumab (Herceptin) and rituximab (Rituxan) and Abbott Laboratories’ adalimumab (Humira) have established new standards of care for patients in need, and they make up a drug category that’s worth more than $30 billion a year. As large, complex Y-shaped molecules, they are also far tougher for generic companies to copy, meaning they should have longer commercial lifespans than traditional oral pills like Pfizer’s atorvastatin (Lipitor).

Naturally, lots of companies want a piece of the antibody action, and are looking to small biotechs with capability to discover lots of potential product candidates.

Tillman Gerngross, co-founder and CEO of Adimab

Adimab, co-founded by K. Dane Wittrup and Errik Anderson, looked at this landscape and crafted an unusual plan from the start. What if instead of building an operation with one big future payday in mind, they could build a company that broadly disseminated antibody drug discovery technology across the industry to get multiple paydays? Adimab, from the start, was supposed to endure, not become a shiny new toy for some acquirer, and then end up suffocating and dying inside the colossus when priorities changed.

“We wanted to know how we could monetize without selling the company,” Gerngross says. “Based on our unique features, unique antibody libraries, we thought we could sell this essentially at least a couple of times. If it were true, we could create one of the very, very few privately held, highly profitable biotech companies.”

The idea seemed realistic the first few years, as a who’s who of pharma beat a path to New Hampshire to essentially do test drives with Adimab, to see if it could make exciting new antibody drug candidates against certain biological targets. Roche, Novartis, Merck, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Gilead Sciences, and Biogen Idec were among those … Next Page »

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