Swiss Biopharma Launches Second Cancer Antibody Deal with Japanese Pharma Giant

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The Japanese heavyweight Ono Pharmaceutical has recruited Numab Therapeutics for a second time to co-develop a multi-specific antibody cancer treatment in a deal worth up to €246M (CHF 260M). 

The announcement follows a two-year collaboration between Ono and Numab announced in March 2017. Under the new agreement, which includes upfront and milestone payments, Ono has the option to acquire exclusive rights to develop and commercialize an immuno-oncology drug candidate for an unspecified indication using Numab’s multi-specific antibody platform, MATCH. 

Antibody-based therapies are becoming increasingly popular in oncology, with Merck’s approved checkpoint inhibitor antibody Keytruda as a prime example. Moreover, multi-specific antibodies — antibody drugs that can bind to more than one target at a time — are under development as they have obvious advantages.

For example, we can target multiple antigens on the tumor cell to improve selectivity and to avoid tumor escape through downregulation of a target,” Numab’s CEO, David Urech, told me. 

Other advantages of hitting multiple targets at once include activating immune cells against cancer more strongly, and even potentially being able to compete with CAR T-cell immunotherapy in terms of efficacy, affordability, and flexibility.

There are several key players in the multi-specific antibody field. Roche’s CrossMAb technology, Amgen’s BiTE platform, and Alligator Bioscience’s RUBY platform are key examples of bi-specific antibody platforms under development for targeting cancer. Even next-generation CAR T-cell therapies are exploring multiple antigen-binding modifications.

According to Urech, Numab’s cancer treatment technology stands out from the competition in terms of stability and flexibility. 

A MATCH molecule is composed exclusively of up to six different stabilized antibody fragment variables, or Fv domains, each possessing unrivaled stability and outstanding affinity,” Urech explained. “This gives us the flexibility needed to come up with optimal designs for mechanisms of action.

Numab’s antibodies also do not contain the Fc domain common to most antibodies, which can trigger off-tumor activities and toxicities. This reduces the risk of their antibodies having unknown interactions in the body. 

Numab’s cancer immunotherapy technology has drawn many companies to partner with it, including life sciences companies based in Asia. For example, 3SBio’s Sunshine Guojian and Eisai signed on to co-develop cancer drugs in the last quarter of 2019. 

Global licensing deals with reputable pharma players such as Ono or Eisai generate revenues that support our proprietary R&D, provide risk-free upside potential, and important validation of the technology,” Urech said. 

Regional licensing of selected proprietary assets in certain Asian markets to companies such as Kaken and CStone on the other hand, allows us to fund global development of the assets while keeping the rights to the rest of the world, including Europe and the USA.”

Images from Shutterstock

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