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Antibody Discovery Company Forms, Partners on Covid-19

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(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

10 Sept. 2020. A new enterprise formed to discover human therapeutic antibodies is partnering with a synthetic biology company to discover Covid-19 antibody treatments. Totient, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which discovers antibody therapies for cancer and autoimmune disorders, as well as infectious diseases, is also raising $10 million in seed funds.

Totient is applying its technology to find Covid-19 neutralizing antibodies for further testing, refinement, and development by Gingko Bioworks in Boston. That technology seeks antigens produced in tertiary lymphoid structures, or TLSs, part of the secondary immune system, that are generated in response to tumors, but also autoimmune and infectious diseases. The company says it applies bioinformatics tools, including machine learning algorithms, to discover antibodies with a high affinity for those antigen targets.

“TLSs are a largely untapped source of naturally evolved, fully-human antibodies,” says Totient vice-president for immunology Daniele Biasci in a company statement released through Cision. “Totient’s technology enables successful assembly of antibodies from TLSs across thousands of samples.” The company says it already screened some 50,000 cancer samples, generating 100 antigens and 100 matching antibodies for therapeutic candidates.

In the work with Gingko Bioworks, Totient is analyzing bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from the lungs of Covid-19 patients. Bronchoalveolar lavage is a diagnostic test for lung diseases where a saline solution is sent into the lungs, then sucked out and examined for signs of infections or other disorders. Studies in China identified several immune-system cytokines produced in the lungs of early Covid-19 patients from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, or BALF, samples.

Biasici notes in a separate company statement, “Existing efforts focus on blood-derived antibodies, so focusing on BALF samples will enable Totient and Ginkgo to mine a largely unexplored source of therapeutic candidates.”

Gingko is expected to apply its synthetic biology platform for advancing antibody candidates identified by Totient, to find the best therapy prospects. “Using the Ginkgo foundry, genetic codebase assets, and bioengineering expertise,” says Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly, “we will scale and accelerate Totient’s antibody analysis so that Totient can focus on what matters most: identifying Covid-19 antibodies that could ultimately help hundreds of thousands of patients and aid in slowing, if not containing, the coronavirus pandemic.”

Totient is spun-off from bioinformatics company Seven Bridges in Boston, and operating in stealth mode for three years. Co-founders Deniz Kural and James Sietstra, now Totient CEO and chief business officer respectively, were also founders of Seven Bridges. The company is raising $10 million in seed funding from an investor syndicate that includes Mission BioCapital, Sands Capital, Viva Biotech, Kaitai Capital, Tau Ventures, Jonathan Milner, and others.

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