Tech Transfer eNews Blog

New virtual incubator puts all the pieces together to speed therapies to market


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: December 1st, 2020

A detailed article on Autobahn Labs and its partnership model with university TTOs appears in the November issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, click here.

It was both the need and opportunity to provide funding and resources to very early stage research that prompted the formation of a new virtual incubator — Autobahn Labs. The incubator is using a new and comprehensive model of support for early-stage drug innovations, combining a typical incubator’s help with VC deep pockets and a pharma company’s deep expertise. And it’s partnering with university TTOs to gain access to their most promising pharma innovations.

At the heart of this new entity, which officially launched in June, are investment firms Samsara BioCapital and KCK, as well as Evotec, a drug discovery and development company.

“Autobahn Labs was created to be a catalyst for translational research, working with academic scientists and institutions to design and execute an accelerated path to deliver transformational new therapies,” says Thomas Novak, PhD, chief scientific officer of Autobahn Labs.

Built on a model of long-term partnership and collaboration, Autobahn Labs invests earlier than traditional venture financing models, providing intellectual, financial and physical capital to efficiently and effectively advance new scientific discoveries from novel concept to preclinical development candidate (PDC). Working in partnership with leading scientists and TTO leaders, the incubator identifies and de-risks early-stage research projects with significant therapeutic potential.

Autobahn Labs can spend up to $5M per project to advance a program. At that point, a subsequent Series A financing can occur with one of Autobahn Labs’ investors taking the lead. This model provides PIs with scientific and operational strategy as well as direct and immediate access to Evotec’s state-of-the-art drug discovery and development capabilities. Novak says they have enough money for eight ongoing projects at a time.

Autobahn’s model is to sign a partnership agreement with the university that defines both the overall relationship, as well as pre-negotiated terms for starting multiple new companies based around faculty members’ research. The companies are jointly owned by the university, faculty founders, and Autobahn.

Once a deal has been signed, Autobahn and the university will collaborate to identify the most promising projects that are a fit for its model, which is solely focused on developing novel therapeutics that address an unmet medical need (often rare diseases). The model is agnostic regarding disease area and modality.

“We’re open to projects that may have identified a novel target or pathway that is relevant to a given disease or pathological mechanism, and may have some initial proof that therapeutic modulation will have the desired effect,” explains Michelle Kim-Danely, Autobahn Labs senior vice president of operations. “We’re not seeking diagnostics, repurposed drugs, or platform technologies (unless a specific target and indication[s] are being proposed).”

Autobahn’s first strategic collaboration is with UCLA’s Technology Development Group (TDG). “[We] have had a highly collaborative and productive relationship with the TDG, key stakeholders within the various research departments, as well as individual faculty. We’re well underway in the process of evaluating and setting up new companies with a number of PIs, and are looking forward to continuing to collaborate as we have really hit our stride,” Kim-Danely says.

UCLA TDG president, CEO and associate vice chancellor Amir Naiberg says by partnering with Autobahn it hopes to builder a strong commercialization pipeline and tap into expertise. The most unique feature of working with Autobahn, he notes, is that “it’s all pre-baked.”

“Legal, funding, administration — it’s all built in,” he says. “It eliminates a great deal of risk and friction because there’s no need to navigate each deal separately. We’re building capabilities. It’s a good vehicle that’s suitable for faculty — for people who don’t want to do a road show.”

The benefit to the university is having the ability to fund and gain resources for research programs that are too early for typical investors and industry partners. Rather than waiting for the PIs to find their own funding to de-risk their work, Autobahn is willing to engage earlier (three to five years from the clinic), providing both funding and integrated resources to these exciting discoveries.

“Autobahn’s benefit is that by partnering with top-tier institutions and their faculty, we will have the opportunity to see novel and compelling early stage research and to work hand-in-hand with the brilliant minds behind it,” Kim-Danely says.

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