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The logo of Gilead Sciences Inc pharmaceutical company in Oceanside, California on April 29, 2020.Mike Blake/Reuters

An antibody-based drug development startup co-founded by veteran B.C. life sciences entrepreneurs has raised US$35-million from investors weeks after inking a development deal with pharma giant Gilead Sciences Inc.

Canadian life sciences financier Amplitude Ventures is leading the investment into Tentarix Biotherapeutics Inc., which is developing biologic therapies called “conditional drugs” that target specific cells in the body by binding with multiple proteins on their surfaces.

The antibody-like drugs function like a combination lock, only activating targeted cells if the biologic’s tentacles bind with all the intended proteins. That means Tentarix-developed treatments could direct specific cells in specific parts of the body to do particular tasks such as killing cancer cells or proliferating white blood cells that reduce inflammations caused by autoimmune diseases while limiting side effects.

Last month, Gilead agreed to partner on three Tentarix development programs that have yet to enter the clinic for US$66-million upfront, with an option to buy each program outright for a further US$80-million apiece.

Gilead is also investing as part of the Amplitude-led financing. San Francisco firms Versant Ventures and Samsara BioCapital, which co-led a US$50-million funding of Tentarix in 2021, are also participating.

With the fresh funds Tentarix will be able to develop out its antibody-creation technology while starting other preclinical programs “to start refilling that pipeline again,” said Amplitude co-founder and investor Allyson Tighe. “Having a platform with multiple programs being developed at any given time opens up your optionality.”

Tentarix was founded in 2020 by five industry veterans, including chief technology officer Michael Gallo and board member Paul Kang, both based in Burnaby, B.C.

The pair have worked for decades in the antibody generation technology business. Mr. Gallo was part of the original scientific team at Cell Genesys Inc. that developed the first transgenic mouse technology for generating human antibodies. He became vice-president of research with a spinoff called Abgenix and ran the unit in Burnaby, B.C., from 2001 to 2007 after it was bought by drug giant Amgen Inc. He and Mr. Kang later founded Innovative Targeting Solutions Inc., whose licensed drug-discovery technology is at the heart of Tentarix’s platform.

The other co-founders, chief executive Paul Grayson, chief scientific officer Stephen Demarest and chief development officer Margaret Karow are all based in San Diego, home to Tentarix headquarters and its other research and development site.

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