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MD Anderson, Biotech Form Antibody Discovery Company

MD Anderson campus

Aerial photograph of MD Anderson campus in 2011 (MDAnderson.org)

7 October 2015. MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is partnering with the biotechnology company Theraclone Sciences to form a new enterprise devoted to discovering antibodies for cancer therapies harnessing the immune system. The company named OncoResponse, also based in Houston, attracted $9.5 million in its first venture funding round.

OncoResponse plans to adapt Theraclone’s I-Star technology for identifying synthetic antibody candidates from patients already treated with immunotherapy, a strategy that invokes the body’s immune system to fight cancer. I-Star is a screening process that identifies memory B cells, those produced by the immune system after encountering an invading pathogen. Memory B cells contain elements making them more attuned to the previous invaders, and thus are considered more potent attackers of those pathogens.

The I-Star system uses blood samples from patients with a previous history of encountering the target pathogen. Memory B cells are extracted from the blood samples, then cultured and activated to produce antibodies. Those antibodies are screened for the desired therapeutic effects, and genetic sequences of the best candidates are obtained for the corresponding B cells. Antibody genes then are inserted in mammalian cells to clone into monoclonal antibodies designed to address specific targets.

Theraclone says it developed monoclonal antibodies targeting influenza, Ebola, and HIV viruses. The company says its partnership with OncoResponse is expected to discover and develop therapeutic antibodies from patients already receiving and responding to immunotherapies for triple negative breast cancer — that does not respond to hormonal therapy — melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and gastric cancer. Under the agreement MD Anderson will recruit patients to offer blood samples and access to their clinical data, as well as provide expertise in translational medicine.

OncoResponse begins operations with $9.5 million from its first round of venture financing. The round was led by MD Anderson, and the venture capital firms Arch Venture Partners and Canaan Partners. Rice University and Alexandria Real Estate Equities took part in the financing.

OncoResponse is the latest in a series of start-up companies spun-off from MD Anderson, part of the University of Texas system. The new enterprises, says MD Anderson, are part of the center’s goal of establishing a biotechnology hub in Houston.

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