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for $41 million in 2000, Bowdish stayed on as a senior vice president with Alexion’s San Diego operations for about six years. When she left that job, she did some scouting for 5AM Ventures for new opportunities. That’s where she found assets from a company in Denmark called Borean Pharma, which provided key technology for forming Anaphore.
“I really liked the platform,” Bowdish says. “Starting with my background in antibodies, and knowing the field well, I recognized that antibodies were a quantum leap in treatment of disease, and that this could address limitations with current biologics.”
Without getting too deep into the science, here’s the basic idea. Anaphore’s technology enables it to genetically engineer proteins that have “trivalent” properties. That means they can bind fully with three different domains on a cellular target in close proximity, Bowdish says. Traditional Y-shaped antibodies, by contrast, often only bind with two domains on a cellular target, she says.
“Because of the structure of antibodies, there’s a limit to their ability to fully engage targets,” Bowdish says.
The Anaphore drug candidates, which it calls “Atrimers,” are also about half the size of traditional antibodies. Scientists hope that will essentially make the new drugs more nimble at penetrating deep into bulky tissues, like tumors, which can be beyond the reach of traditional antibodies.
It didn’t take long for Anaphore to convince Mitsubishi Tanabe to get into this game. Bowdish didn’t have any pre-existing relationship with the company, but she saw opportunity back in January when the company said it was closing down the part of its San Diego research center that worked on traditional small-molecule chemical drugs. While the news of the day lamented the loss of 35 local jobs, Bowdish noticed that Tanabe expressed interest in transforming its local R&D center into a center of biologic drug development, and that it wanted to talk to local partners for help.
So Bowdish introduced herself to Masaki Yamade, the CEO of Tanabe Research Labs in San Diego, and told him about Anaphore’s work. Less than a year later, a deal was struck. Anaphore, which has its offices on the Torrey Pines Mesa next door to the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, now plans to work closely with scientific colleagues from Tanabe who are just a few minutes away in the La Jolla Towne Center Court area, not far from Illumina and Amylin Pharmaceuticals.
It became clear pretty quickly the interest was mutual. The first meeting was back in April, Bowdish recalls. Going from a cold call to an R&D partnership in eight months actually does qualify as quick in the pharma business.
“This was quick. Both sides were very engaged in the discussions,” Bowdish says. “The speed with which we were able to do this shows the excitement around the opportunity.”