Google Ventures Backs Adimab in Antibody Discovery Business

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated 10/01/09 10:45 am. See below]

Adimab has added Google Ventures to the roster of venture investors that are backing the Lebanon, NH-based biotech startup in its development of a fast and powerful antibody discovery platform, the company reports this morning.

Google Ventures, the corporate venture arm of the Internet giant Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), led a Series D round of financing for Adimab. The other investors in the round included previous Adimab backers Polaris Venture Partners, SV Life Sciences (where Adimab CEO and co-founder Tillman Gerngross is a venture partner), OrbiMed Advisors, and Borealis Ventures. While Google may not be the first firm one would think of as in investor in a biotech startup, Google Ventures has previously pumped capital into genome services firm 23andMe. And Bill Maris, the Google Ventures managing partner who is joining Adimab’s board, has a background in neuroscience, according to his biography on the Google Ventures website.

Adimab isn’t saying how much it has raised in its fourth round of financing, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the sum is a modest one, since Gerngross has told me that he would like to grow the startup into a profitable venture without raising huge amounts of venture capital. (A search of SEC records didn’t uncover any Adimab filings.) Gerngross has said he takes pride in the fact his last company, GlycoFi, raised only about $32 million before it was acquired by Whitehouse Station, NJ-based drug giant Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) for $400 million. Adimab also hasn’t disclosed the sums of its previous two venture rounds, so it’s tough to say how much the firm has raised.

Adimab’s new relationship with Google Ventures gives the small firm, in addition to cash, an investor with deep knowledge of computer systems, which are a key component to the drug-discovery process. Plus, Google’s another big name to heighten Adimab’s growing profile. Adimab has previously forged research collaboration deals with U.S. pharma giant Merck & Co. and Swiss healthcare products powerhouse Roche.

Adimab’s antibody discovery technology, the focus of those research deals, is a simulated immune system, in which engineered yeast cells produce human antibodies in response to potential drug target molecules that researchers introduce into the system. Gerngross has said the process of discovering an antibody with therapeutic potential takes about eight weeks, which is much faster than traditional methods of doing the same.

“Adimab reviewed multiple investment proposals but it was clear that Google Ventures immediately understood our value proposition—that a prolific discovery platform can drive even greater productivity when integrated with advanced computational tools,” Errik Anderson, chief operating officer of Adimab, said in a statement. “The continued support of our previous investor base is also testament to the strength of this proposition.”

Gerngross said in an interview this morning that computational tools are used at the front end of Adimab’s antibody-discovery platform to provide computer models of the human immune system. The computer models are translated into a physical system of engineered yeast described above. The startup is now building a computer database that could eventually help predict which disease targets are likely to be impacted by certain antibodies. Further, computer tools could also be used to expedite the process of optimizing the effectiveness of antibodies in treating specific germs, which now takes about four months in the laboratory, according to Gerngross. [This paragraph was added after this story was initially published.]