West Coast Editor

More than two years after its last major news, Ambit Biosciences Corp. returned to the headlines with a Roche deal and a Series C financing led by the pharmaceutical giant, raising more than $21 million in the initial closing.

"We expect to have a second closing before the end of October," pulling down another $12 million to $14 million, said Scott Salka, CEO of San Diego-based Ambit.

Under the terms, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland, will use Ambit's kinase-screening platform to profile and select small-molecule kinase inhibitors, providing Ambit with potential milestone payments and royalties.

The $21 million gives Ambit enough to operate for "just over two years," Salka told BioWorld Today, calling that a "conservative number." Ambit, he added, will be spending "quite a bit of money" on advancing its internally developed neuroprotective agent, for which an investigational new drug application is expected to be filed in the middle part of next year, and a kinase inhibitor, for which an IND is expected toward the end of the year.

"We have on the order of 100 [kinase inhibitors] that could be reasonable clinical candidates," Salka said. "We're going to be spoiled for choice."

In the spring of 2002, Ambit entered an agreement with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, which is part of London-based AstraZeneca plc, to identify and isolate protein targets of small molecules for central nervous system diseases, but that deal "wound down about a year ago," he said. (See BioWorld Today, April 3, 2002.)

"We have a number of [other] relationships that are active," Salka said. "We're moving them along and expect to expand them into larger deals in the next couple of quarters." All deploy Ambit's Kinase Profiling Platform, which the company characterized as "an industry-leading high-throughput panel" of more than 120 quantitative human kinase assays.

Salka declined to disclose the size of Roche's equity stake in Ambit, but described it as "multimillion dollar" and said Roche was the largest investor.

"There's a great deal of money out there, and people are looking to invest it," Salka said. "On the other hand, investors are highly discriminating. For all of the term sheets we were able to get from various syndicates, we probably did a couple months' work doing due diligence even before they were willing to put a term sheet on the table. They're really being cautious."

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