Ablexis Maps Out New Antibody Drug Strategy with $12M From Third Rock, Pfizer
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candidates that are likely to pass the gauntlet of clinical trials required by the FDA before a drug can be sold in the U.S.
“The great thing is by putting the human genes in the context of an in vivo immune response, especially like the one of the mouse which is remarkably similar to humans, you get to harness a very efficient process that’s evolved over millions of years to ward off life-threatening things,” Green says. “It has to move fast. It has to be efficient. It’s possible to get high quality antibodies out of these systems in a short time.”
Third Rock, which likes to talk to innovators about compelling concepts before it invests, says it heard repeatedly from scientists that there’s a need in the marketplace for a new genetically modified mouse that can efficiently pump out antibody drug candidates. Barbara Dalton, vice president of venture capital at Pfizer said in a statement earlier this month, “We expect that Ablexis’ innovative transgenic mouse platform will fulfill a strategic need for many companies like Pfizer.”
There are a number of competitors out there, like Lebanon, NH-based Adimab, which uses a fast-dividing yeast platform to churn out antibody drug candidates for Big Pharma customers. Germany-based MorphoSys is another. Green’s former company, Fremont, CA-based Abgenix, could have been considered one before it was acquired by Amgen back in 2006.
Green is a first-time CEO at Ablexis, but he goes way back with the Third Rock crew. Green was one of the scientists at Cell Genesys when that company spun off Abgenix, a transaction back in the early 1990s that Third Rock partners Mark Levin and Bob Tepper were involved in, Green says. They helped guide not just the investment, but the new strategy of Ablexis, which used to be called Aliva Biopharmaceuticals. The company dropped the biopharmaceuticals from the name, because it’s not focusing on drug development, but on doing partnerships with big drugmakers that want access to its technology.
Ablexis just really came out of stealth mode, so there aren’t any big deals to talk about yet. “Our focus for the foreseeable future is in creating these mice and monetizing them,” Green says. When I pressed him for details on how the Ablexis technology stacks up with the competition on speed, cost, and reliability, he said all those things are confidential at the moment.
He did say that he’s got a record of success to build on, however. Other technologies which depend on picking antibodies that bind with cell targets in lab dish haven’t performed as well over time as those from genetically modified mice. He counts six such antibodies that come from these mouse models, including Amgen’s latest expected blockbuster for osteoporosis, denosumab (Prolia).
In fact, Green couldn’t resist telling me the anecdote about how he woke up on the morning of June 2 to read a congratulatory e-mail from a colleague who told him about the FDA’s approval of denosumab. The product relied on the Abgenix Xenomouse technology, which Green had a hand in creating years ago. That was an extra dose of good news, because it was the same day Ablexis announced its $12 million financing. If Ablexis’ technology is really a step ahead, then there should someday be more big drugs that arise from its platform, like denosumab.
“Our goal is to put our mice in the hands of the best antibody drug discoverers, and let them be creative,” Green says. “We want to let them discover drugs.”