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Challenge Seeks A.I. Antibody Enhancement Platform

Vials and bottles

(National Cancer Institute, Unsplash)

14 Feb. 2021. A challenge competition is seeking computational biology teams to propose a new technology with artificial intelligence for enhancing antibody therapies. AION Labs in Rehovot, Israel — a coalition of pharma and technology companies in the U.S., Europe, and Israel — will provide the winning team with data for constructing A.I. models as well as funding and support to incubate the new company.

The challenge — called A.I. Enabled Design and Optimization of Antibodies for Targeted Therapies — seeks teams working in computational biology and chemistry to propose new ideas for a technology platform that enhances and optimizes antibody therapies in much less time than today. The competition is conducted by BioMed X, a research institute in Heidelberg, Germany that sponsors crowd-sourced studies in molecular biology, cell biology, computational biology, and diagnostics by early career scientists in academic labs and start-up companies.

BioMed X notes that antibody therapies are becoming treatments of choice for a number of diseases, including Covid-19 infections. But despite their emergence as leading treatment types, new antibodies often require long periods of time for discovery and optimization. The competition seeks new computational techniques for antibody design that optimizes therapeutic properties such as stability, aggregation, immune system response, chemical activity in the body, and tissue distribution. The technology should also enhance an antibody’s development and manufacturing capabilities.

The goal, says BioMed X, is a platform using A.I. that enhances existing antibodies, while cutting design time and iterations, and reducing attrition rates. An ideal end-to-end system would use protein binding sequences as targets to generate new variations of immunoglobulin G or IgG antibodies with the needed biological, physical, and targeting properties.

Initial proposals due in April

AION Labs is a collaboration of drug makers AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer, and Teva, with Amazon Web Services and the Israel Biotech Fund. The winning team will receive receive from AION Labs research funding of up to $2 million over four years and an equity stake for a start-up company, with computational and wet lab facilities and access to data repositories for developing algorithms in the proposed solution. The new company will be incubated at AION Labs with mentors from academia, industry, and venture capital.

Teams are asked to register and submit their three to five page proposals via BioMed X by 10 April 2022. A panel will review proposals and finalist candidates will be asked to take part in a five-day innovation camp in Israel in June. Participants in the camp will refine their proposals and make their pitches to a jury on the last day, followed by selection of the winning team.

“We’re anticipating another strong round of applications,” says AION Labs chief technology officer Yair Benita in a BioMed X statement, “and look forward to working together with the chosen startup to develop a cutting-edge solution to substantially improve the design and optimization of antibodies for targeted therapies.”

This is the third challenge offered by AION Labs, and the second competition involving antibodies. In October 2021, Science & Enterprise reported on AION Labs’ first competition, seeking a computational platform that allows for design of new antibodies to meet antigen structure and sequence specifications that bind to precise epitope, or antigen binding site, targets.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Pfizer.

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