Ambrx Aims to Create New Breed of Custom-Built Biotech Drugs

12/8/08Follow @xconomy

One thing I love about our new Xconomy San Diego office: I could practically shout out the window and get the attention of one of the fastest-growing private biotech companies in the region, Ambrx. (Although I bet the landlord, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, wouldn’t take too kindly.)

I actually scheduled a meeting with Ambrx CEO Steve Kaldor in a more civilized fashion, via email. He’s been on my list for a while, since he’s running one of the few private biotechs sitting on a pile of $55 million in cash, and has the luxury of research support from four partnerships with Big Pharma companies.

The Ambrx story began in 2003. That’s when Peter Schultz, the director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (and the founder of eight biotech companies) had a new idea for creating new amino acid building blocks for a different class of biotech drugs. These drugs could potentially do whatever you wanted, like last longer in the body, or carry potent cell-killing agents if need be. The vision is apparently catching on. Ambrx has raised $96 million in venture capital, hired 80 employees, created at least 11 drug candidates, and signed two partnerships with Eli Lilly, and one each with Merck and Merck KGaA of Germany to help fill up their pipelines with promising new products in development.

“The world seems to be beating a path to our door,” Kaldor says. “We feel we’re part of the next generation of therapeutics.”

Before we get too carried away, it must be noted that none of Ambrx’s newly-engineered protein drugs have navigated the perilous seas of advanced clinical trials. Frankly, it still needs to settle on what it wants to be when it grows up—a research and development shop for Big Pharma, or a fully-integrated biotech company that discovers, develops, and sells its own products.

With any unproven technology heralded to have broad potential, management execution on its top one or two candidates is critical. So Kaldor walked me through the opportunities he sees for the company’s lead candidate, ARX-201, a modified form of human growth hormone, which Ambrx is developing with Merck KGaA of Germany.

The first-generation HGH drugs, usually taken by short children (or occasionally a venal pro athlete looking for an edge) have to be taken daily by injection. The Ambrx drug … Next Page »

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