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Genentech Gains Modular Engineered Antibodies in $5B Deal

Natural killer cell

Natural killer cell (NIAID, Flickr)

28 August 2018. A developer of synthetic antibodies that invoke the immune system is partnering with the biopharmaceutical company Genentech to design new therapies for blood-related and solid tumor cancers. The deal with Genentech, a company in the Roche Group in South San Francisco, California is expected to bring Affimed N.V. in Heidelberg, Germany more than $5 billion if all parts of the agreement are carried out.

Affimed, found in 2000, is a spin-off enterprise from  the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg developing highly targeted synthetic antibodies with a technology it calls redirected optimized cell killing, or Rock. The Rock platform, says Affimed, enables its antibodies to engage two types of immune system cells: natural killer and T-cells. Natural killer cells are lymphocytes, white blood cells that are part of the innate immune system, protecting against infections from birth. T-cells are also lymphocytes, but are part of the adaptive immune system that develops protections against invading pathogens. T-cells are broadly grouped into helper cells that release enzymes regulating immune responses, and killer cells that destroy infected cells, including cancer cells.

The Rock platform designs synthetic antibodies with a modular structure, which provides a common architecture. The antibodies aim for two specific targets, which the company says enables the antibodies to establish a bridge between natural killer or T-cells and their cancer cell targets. The antibodies have 4 binding sites, which Affimed says makes their connections to targets tight and enduring. Affimed’s lead product is a natural killer antibody to treat two types of lymphoma, which are now in clinical trials, as are T-cell antibodies for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and two types of leukemia. Other natural killer antibodies for solid-tumor, blood-related cancers, and undisclosed targets are in preclinical development.

Under the agreement, Genentech and Affimed will collaborate on development of new synthetic antibodies with the Rock technology that engage natural killer cells to treat multiple solid-tumor and blood-related cancers. The therapy targets were not disclosed. The two companies are expected to jointly discover and conduct early-stage and preclinical research on treatments for these cancer targets. Genentech will then be responsible for clinical development and worldwide commercialization of products that result. The deal applies to new cancer treatments, not Affimed’s current therapy candidates.

Genentech is providing Affimed $96 million in an initial payment, that also funds the companies’ early collaborative work. In addition, Affimed is eligible for development, regulatory, and commercial milestone payments, as well as royalties on sales, which the companies say could reach $5 billion over the course of the partnership. “Our partnership with Affimed,” says James Sabry, Roche’s director of partnering in an Affimed statement, “provides an opportunity to enhance our existing efforts to understand how the immune system can be activated to help people living with cancer.”

Genentech seems interested in partnerships that provide the company with unique biotech capabilities. As reported by Science & Enterprise in May, Genentech is licensing a process from Lodo Technologies in New York for discovering small molecule drugs from naturally occurring microbes found in soil. That deal could bring the 2 year-old company as much as $1 billion if all aspects are completed.

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