Business consulting outfit ManattJones Global Strategies split last week from West L.A. law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips to form the standalone Monarch Global Strategies.

The newly independent group’s chief executive, Michael Camuñez, who served as an assistant commerce secretary under President Barack Obama, said the decision to move out from under the Manatt umbrella was pragmatic.

“We had an excellent relationship with Manatt and really enjoyed working with everyone there – and we’ll continue to work with the firm – but we think this move gives us more flexibility in what we can do,” Camuñez said.

Monarch, which will be headquartered downtown, acts as a sort of all-around fixer for companies looking to do cross-border business in North America, particularly in Mexico. The firm has deep government ties in both the United States and Mexico, as much of Camuñez’s role with the Obama administration was spent managing the commercial relationship between the two countries. The firm’s chairman is James Jones, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997. Jones was one of the leaders who helped craft and then implement the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This diplomatic experience is looking increasingly valuable with the United States set to hold NAFTA renegotiation talks with Canada and Mexico on Aug. 16 in Washington, D.C.

Camuñez said the firm had opened dialogue with its clients about the NAFTA talks, but hadn’t begun any sort of formal lobbying efforts.

“We’re certainly following it closely and advocating at the executive level about what we think needs to happen,” he said. “But we haven’t gotten involved at the legislative level, mostly because there’s no actual legislation yet. It is something we’re capable of doing, however.”

Some of Monarch’s biggest clients are from the L.A. area. The firm helped secure a deal for Pasadena engineering firm Parsons Corp. to manage construction of Mexico City’s new international airport, which is expected to cost some $13 billion.

Camuñez said the firm also works with private equity firms, manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, among others, on a wide variety of issues.

Sweet Deal

Inglewood-based confectioner Sugarfina picked up its first private equity investment last week with Great Hill Partners dropping $35 million for a minority stake in the company.

Sugarfina, which makes candies in flavors such as “green juice” and “single-barrel bourbon,” has experienced rapid growth in the past several years. The company expects sales to hit $50 million this year – up from $25 million in 2016 and $7 million in 2015, according to founder Rosie O’Neill.

“We launched in 2012 and have had just a crazy growth curve,” she said. “We’re now at the point where we’re a much bigger business and this investment helps us grow and get to the next step, especially when it comes to e-commerce, mobile and international expansion.”

That international expansion will likely begin next year, with franchise relationships in the Middle East and Asia, according to O’Neill. Sugarfina, which has 24 shops in North America and an additional 14 stands inside Nordstrom stores, aims to open 10 more storefronts in North America by the end of this year. The company also plans to launch a revamped website in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Great Hill Partner Peter Garran said in a statement that the Boston-based private equity shop was excited to have a stake in the candy maker.

“Sugarfina is a proven disruptor in a huge industry that hasn’t seen a lot of innovation,” Garran said. “While many established brands are struggling in today’s retail environment, Sugarfina is thriving due to their innovative products, distinctive branding, and unique, experiential approach to luxury confections.”

New Soon-Shiong Partnership

Patrick Soon-Shiong’s NantCell Inc. is putting some $13 million into Brentwood-based CytRx Corp., in a deal that could ultimately be worth $356 million if certain benchmarks are hit.

The infusion allows NantCell to license CytRx’s aldoxorubicin chemotherapy drug for commercial sale. The drug, which is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration, is designed to treat a type of cancer occurring in muscle, fat, blood vessels, tendons, fibrous and connective tissues.

Under terms of the license, NantCell purchased $13 million in CytRx shares at $1.10 a share – a 92 percent markup on the company’s listed stock price on July 27. NantCell also has warrants to purchase an additional $3 million in stock over the next 18 months.

CytRx could get an additional $343 million in payouts if certain regulatory and commercial milestones are hit. The company said in a statement that it would also receive certain royalties and that NantCell would be responsible for all future development, commercialization and manufacturing costs associated with aldoxorubicin.

“This license and strategic investment will put aldoxorubicin in the hands of a committed partner,” CytRx Chief Executive Steven Kriegsman said in a statement.

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