CytomX Snags $25M From Pfizer to Make Souped-Up Antibodies

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making antibody drug conjugates, and it has a collaboration with Seattle Genetics, in which it is using that company’s antibody-drug linking technology against a single molecular target for treating cancer. The CytomX deal is broader than that, because it includes multiple drug candidates against multiple targets, although the number of targets, and the names of them, aren’t being disclosed.

The partnership with Pfizer is the first validation from a Big Pharma company for CytomX, which was founded in 2008 with technology from UC Santa Barbara. The company raised a $30 million Series B venture financing in September 2010 from Third Rock Ventures and Roche Venture Fund. The company added Canaan Partners to its list of Series B backers last July, and tacked on an additional $11 million in financing.

CytomX’s big idea is to combine a peptide with the antibody, so that the drug only gets activated in the presence of certain enzymes (proteases) in diseased cells. This way, the antibody will remain inactive while it circulates in the bloodstream, and then get activated when it comes into contact with these disease-related proteases. CytomX calls its molecules “Probody Drug Conjugates.”

The company, which has 28 full-time employees, still has the flexibility and capacity to do more partnerships against different cancer targets, and to make drug candidates against other diseases, McCarthy said. The company will continue to look for those deals to bring in cash to support operations, and get the most leverage out of its early venture investment, McCarthy said.

CytomX has said publicly that it is seeking to use its technology to make an antibody drug that could compete with Eli Lilly’s cetuximab (Erbitux) and Amgen’s panitumumab (Vectibix) against a target called EGFR. CytomX still retains full ownership of that drug program after striking the new collaboration with Pfizer, McCarthy said.

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