Femta Pharmaceuticals Snags $2.2M for Potent Antibody Drugs

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego-based Femta Pharmaceuticals has pocketed some more venture capital to make targeted antibody drugs that pack more punch.

The company has raised $2.2 million in equity and options financing out of a deal that could be worth $2.47 million, according to a regulatory filing. Latterell Venture Partners and Biotech Investment Group, a couple of Femta’s original investors, participated in the latest round, according to Femta CEO Stephen Keane. The company, founded in June 2008, has now raised $7 million total, Keane says.

Femta is on a mission to develop antibody drugs with super-high affinity, meaning they bind tightly to their chosen target on cells, and can be effective at tiny doses. From a medical point of view, that could translate to a highly effective drug with fewer side effects. From the business side, it’s attractive because it could mean lower cost of raw materials and higher profit margins. Femta, a lean “virtual” company with just two employees managing an array of contractors, plans to use the latest cash to develop its lead drug candidate to the point where it can seek permission from the FDA to start clinical trials, Keane says.

The lead drug, FM-101, is an antibody designed to hit an inflammatory protein called IL-6. This is the same target that Bothell, WA-based Alder Biopharmaceuticals has been pursuing with an antibody that produced some impressive results in a mid-stage clinical trial for rheumatoid arthritis patients. While Alder makes its antibody in fast-dividing yeast cells, Femta is using more traditional mammalian cells to churn out its drug. Femta is not as far along in clinical development as Alder, but it hopes to come along later with a more potent IL-6 inhibitor, Keane says. Essentially, it’s a “fast follower” strategy in which Femta develops what it hopes is a better drug against a target that’s been validated as clinically important by someone else.

Alder’s results so far look “great,” Keane says. “We want to do something a little better, and we’ll spend less to get there,” he adds.

Keane is a veteran biotech entrepreneur on the San Diego scene, formerly of Ambit Biosciences, Corvas International, Epimmune, and SIBA International, among others. The company’s chief scientist is Peter Emtage, an immunologist who formerly worked in senior scientific roles at Nventa Biopharmaceuticals, Biomira, and Nuvelo.

The goal at Femta will be to operate as a “virtual” development organization that will take antibody candidates through the early studies of testing required to take a drug into clinical trials. It will then seek to find partners to carry out the time-consuming and expensive steps of clinical development, while hoping to keep churning out more promising drug candidates that pharma companies will want to buy, Keane says. Femta is working on developing antibodies against five different targets, he says.