Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Notes From BIO: Pim's Cup Runneth Over

Greetings from Chicago! Fantastic weather for early May, an economy on the upswing, not to mention a certain conference that's in town, make the City of Big Shoulders particularly lively this week. One way to take the temperature of a conference -- and last year's BIO in Atlanta barely broke a sweat -- is to check in with the folks scrambling for deals and having hushed conversations in discreet corners.

Before BIO got fully underway Monday morning, it was already hard to find a quiet place to sit. One of our first chats was with Willem "Pim" Stemmer, the inventor of the DNA shuffling technology that underpinned Maxygen, which last year transfered most of its assets into a joint venture with Astellas Pharma, and the recently-IPO'ed biofuel firm Codexis. (Maxygen also birthed the next generation protein play Avidia, which Amgen bought in 2006 for $290 million plus earnouts.)

Stemmer's latest endeavor also aims to squeeze several companies from one. The parent, Amunix Inc., is working on two things. The first is an ion-channel research program, with Pfizer as the first customer. The second, which started as a side project, is a half-life extension technology called XTEN that adds a recombinant polypeptide chain to known molecules, without the manufacturing and safety concerns of pegylation. That's the claim, anyway, and it was enough to convince European VC Index Ventures to solely fund a spin-out, Versartis, charged with developing Amunix's lead compounds, the first of which is an XTEN-enhanced version of the diabetes drug exenatide.

Now comes a second spin-out called Ios, so newly dubbed that it doesn't have a Web site. Ios will hold Amunix's ion-channel program, which Stemmer told IVB he wants to become a "research hub" with several pharma partners and a goal of being acquired in the next two to four years. For drug leads, it is testing venom toxins against ion channel targets, using XTEN for half-life extension. Stemmer was in Chicago this week unfurling the Ios banner and scouting for discovery deals to replace or supplement the existing three-year deal with Pfizer that expires at the end of the year.

Unlike Versartis, which is strictly a product development company, Ios will include Amunix's microprotein platform technology, Stemmer said.

Photo courtesy of flickr user paraflyer.

No comments: