Drugmakers pursue next generation of antibodies | April 27, 2016 Issue - Vol. 94 Issue 18 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 94 Issue 18 | p. 14 | News of The Week
Issue Date: May 2, 2016 | Web Date: April 27, 2016

Drugmakers pursue next generation of antibodies

Big companies pay small firms to get at new technologies
Department: Business
Keywords: biologics, drug development, antibodies, collaboration
AbbVie researchers will collaborate on antibodies with new partners.
Credit: AbbVie
AbbVie researchers in lab.
AbbVie researchers will collaborate on antibodies with new partners.
Credit: AbbVie

Seeing monoclonal antibodies rank among the top-selling pharmaceuticals, major drug companies are investing in the next generation of engineered antibodies and antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). In under a week, AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Takeda Pharmaceutical signed deals with small technology firms that together could be worth more than $2 billion.

AbbVie will pay $40 million up front and up to $645 million in milestone payments to help Argenx develop its preclinical cancer immunotherapy ARGX-115. The Dutch firm engineers the targeting, binding, and other features of antibodies created within the immune system of llamas. ARGX-115 targets GARP, a protein linked to immuno-suppressive effects of T cells.

In addition, AbbVie will spend $30 million up front and up to $470 million more to work with CytomX Therapeutics. CytomX designs ADCs with high selectivity for delivering cytotoxic payloads to tumor cells while avoiding healthy cells. An initial target will be the tumor antigen CD17.

Meanwhile, Adimab, a developer of monoclonal and bispecific antibodies, has new partnerships with Japan’s Takeda, the immunotherapy start-up iTeos Therapeutics, and retinal disease-focused Kodiak Sciences. Admiab also says Eli Lilly & Co., Kite Pharma, and Jounce Therapeutics have taken commercial licenses to antibodies generated under existing collaborations.

In another license pact, GSK will pay $36 million up front and up to $872 million in milestones to get Zymeworks’ technology for generating bispecific antibodies. Since December, the two companies have been collaborating on antibody engineering in a deal worth up to $440 million.

With only a handful approved, ADCs and engineered or bispecific antibodies are niche products. But 50 or more of each are in development, and annual market growth could hit 30-40% over the next 10 years, according to the market research firm Roots Analysis. ADC sales, for example, are predicted to grow from about $1 billion today to $10 billion by 2025.

“Monoclonals are very useful, but we are seeing more and more cases where we need extra punch or oomph, and that is where bispecific and ADCs come in,” says David Poon, Zymeworks’ director of R&D alliances. “One of our lead compounds is a bispecific drug conjugate, so we are actually already thinking about combining different aspects of these next-generation platforms.”

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