Austrian antibody firm proves star power with EUR 8million round
An Austrian biotech firm that moved into Cambridge in 2008 has raised £7.2m (EUR 8m) in an extended Series A round.
f-star, which has developed novel antibody engineering technology, moved to the Babraham Research campus in March 2008 in order to build closer links with the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge - an acknowledged world leader in antibody science.The round was co-led by new investors MP Healthcare Venture Management (MPH) and Merck Serono Ventures, with existing investors Atlas Venture, Aescap Venture, Novo Ventures and TVM Capital also participating.The latest fundraising adds to the EUR 9m the company raised through its main Series A round and takes the total raised to around EUR 19m.The company currently employs seven at its Babraham base but plans to increase headcount to 11 or 12 in the short term, it said.f-star has been successful in building strong links with the LMB. It recruited its deputy director, Sir Gregory Winter to its board in 2007 and local biotech entrepreneur, Kevin Fitzgerald, who studied for his PhD under Sir Gregory as its CEO last Spring.FitzGerald said: “We have completed this significant investment round despite the current financial climate. Both MPH and Merck Serono Ventures are investors with a strong strategic focus and the connections they have with their parent pharmaceutical organisations will provide valued support for f-star as it moves product candidates into the clinic. “This investment, coupled with a rapidly maturing technology and highly committed management and staff, provides a solid platform on which f-star can create novel medicines and grow significant value”. The new financing will support drug discovery and development efforts using f-star’s proprietary Modular Antibody Technology. The technology allows the engineering of new antigen binding sites into constant and variable domains of antibodies and has led to the development of two “promising” molecular formats, Fcab and mAb2. Fcabs allow novel therapeutic candidates to be isolated which, despite being small in size, retain all normal antibody functionalities. mAb2 technology provides the opportunity to add additional functionality, specificity, selectivity or potency to existing antibodies.f-star was seed-financed by Austrian government agencies and Atlas Venture in 2006.Antibody companies have been the Cambridge biotech cluster's highest achievers in recent years, with the LMB central to the success. LMB spin-out, Cambridge Antibody Technology had a major hand in the development of the UK biotech industry's only blockbuster drug, rheumatoid arthritis treatment, Humira, before being acquired by AstraZeneca for £702m in 2006, while fellow spin-out Domantis was acquired by GSK for £230m in the same year.Former Cambridge Antibody employees have also been making the running in recent years. PanGenetics, a company started by a group of senior CAT executives including former CTO, Kevin Johnson announced in November last year that it had sold the treatment it was developing for chronic pain to healthcare giant, Abbott Laboratories, for over £100 million.And despite what is generally accepted to be a particularly challenging funding climate, new LMB spin-outs are also managing to get the venture capitalists reaching for their chequebooks. Heptares, based at BioPark Hertfordshire raised £21m in its Series A in February last year - an investment vindicated by the $20m tie-up the company signed with Novartis in October 2009, while Sir Gregory's new venture, Bicycle Therapeutics received an unspecified amount of seed funding from Atlas Venture and Novartis Venture Fund in the same month.Caption: Fcabs are antibody Fc fragments with an engineered binding site in the CH3 domain (red region on graphic). Fcabs are a third the size of a whole antibody yet they retain all antibody functionality: antigen binding, immune effector function and long in vivo half life.