Amgen, KPCB create new spinout biotech firm

Atara Biotherapeutics will focus on cancer, kidney disease

Lori Lesko
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.—Global biopharmaceutical firm Amgenhas partnered with venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers(KPCB) to launch Atara Biotherapeutics, a new drug development company focusedon innovative therapies for patients with chronic diseases including cancer andkidney diseases.
 
 
Amgen will have a minority equity stake in Atara, while KPCBwill initially finance the venture. Atara will have licenses to six Amgenassets in various stages of development ranging from preclinical to Phase I.Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. 
 
KPCB has backed entrepreneurs in more than 500 venturesleading to 150 IPOs, 350,000 jobs and a deep strategic network. The firm hashelped build pioneering companies like Align, Amazon, Electronic Arts,Genentech, Genomic Health, Google, Intuit, Juniper Networks, Netscape,Symantec, VeriSign and WebMD. KPCB partners serve on the boards of Amazon,Apple, Bloom Energy, Flipboard, Foundation Medicine, Google, Hewlett-Packard,Nest, Square, Tesaro and Zynga, among others. KPCB operates from offices in SanFrancisco, Shanghai and Beijing. 
 
"Amgen is excited to partner with KPCB to help advancemolecules in Amgen's pipeline that have the potential to treat seriousillnesses," says Dr. Sean E. Harper, executive vice president of research anddevelopment at Amgen. "With facilities in both the Bay Area and near Amgen'sThousand Oaks campus, Atara Biotherapeutics will provide the opportunity tofurther foster biotechnology innovation in Amgen's communities."
 
 
According to a company press release dated Oct. 25, Dr.Isaac Ciechanover, a former partner at KPCB, will serve as Atara's presidentand CEO.
 
"We look forward to building on Amgen's research to bring apromising group of therapeutics to patients with serious illnesses,"Ciechanover said in a news release, adding in an e-mail: "We have not commentedon our programs and strategy as yet."
 
Despite requests for more information on the new company'splans, no more details about Atari BioTherapeutics were forthcoming by presstime. A website page for Atari at www.ataribio.com went up on Oct. 27, listinga Westlake Village, Calif., address and phone number, but offered no visuals,directors, executives or employees.
 
Historically, Amgen's oncology portfolio focused onsupportive care products for complications arising from cancer treatment, likeanemia. However, in recent years, Amgen has put more resources into itsoncology therapeutics pipeline in an attempt to develop drugs that directlytreat cancer itself. But the company took a hit earlier this year when alate-stage trial Sensipar, a drug designed to treat secondaryhyperparathyroidism, failed to reduce the risk of death and cardiovascularproblems in patients with a complication of kidney disease.
 
 
The need and market are there. The U.S. National Institutesof Health estimates that 40,250 men and 24,520 women will be diagnosed withkidney cancer this year, with the condition claiming the lives of 13,570 menand women.

Lori Lesko

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