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Chinese Consortium To Buy Californian Biotech Firm Ambrx

Investment: Consortium members see benefits in firm’s unnatural amino acid technology for creating antibody-drug conjugates

by Jean-François Tremblay
June 1, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 22

A Chinese consortium has agreed to acquire Ambrx, a San Diego-based biotech firm that harnesses nonnative amino acids to create drugs known as bioconjugates.

The consortium is made up of several prominent Chinese firms including Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical, one of China’s largest drugmakers; WuXi PharmaTech, the world’s largest drug contract research organization; and China Everbright, an investment firm controlled by the Chinese government. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A spin-off from the California labs of Scripps Research Institute chemist Peter G. Schultz, Ambrx develops antibody-drug conjugates and other bioconjugates. Several of its drug candidates are undergoing clinical trials. Its pipeline also includes, at the preclinical stage, a therapeutic protein for weight management.

Fosun says the acquisition will strengthen its own drug discovery efforts. WuXi expects that access to Ambrx technology will help it better serve customers worldwide.

Jimmy Wei, a partner in the Shanghai office of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, says it makes sense today for Chinese firms to buy assets overseas. “The [market] valuation of companies in China is far higher than in Europe or the U.S.,” he says. In recent months, this financial strength has led many Chinese players to look for Western biotech firms they could acquire, he adds.

Ambrx has ongoing research pacts with major drug companies that have collectively provided it with more than $200 million in funding, but it has been looking for additional funds for some time. It tried unsuccessfully last year to raise up to $70 million by listing on the NASDAQ stock exchange.


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