Boehringer Ingelheim backs Max Planck spinout in taking a shot at tough class of cancer targets
Scientists have long known about tumor-associated carbohydrate antigens — those abnormal saccharides that are abundant on cancer cell surfaces and feed them on — but their ability to hide from the immune systems means they have proved to be evasive targets in immuno-oncology.
Two glycosciences experts at the Max Planck Institute in Germany believed synthesizing those targets in the first place is key to cracking that problem. They have now received a modest seed round to pursue that idea at their Berlin-based biotech spinout, Tacalyx.
Peter Seeberger, director at the MPI for Colloids and Interfaces, worked with Oren Moscovitz to develop automated glycan assembly, which then allowed for targeted antibody generation.
“The ability to synthesize pure isolates using solid phase synthesis represents an important step forward and facilitates the identification of specific antibodies and their subsequent characterization,” the company wrote on its website. “This access to glycans previously inaccessible in larger amounts is central to Tacalyx’s activities.”
Max Planck Innovation approached Shire vet Peter Sondermann almost two years ago now about launchng a venture. In an interview with Endpoints News, the CEO said with the help of investors and the researchers he’s built a team of four and plans to push the headcount to 10 in a year or so.
While others have tried a tumor vaccine approach to induce immune responses to TACAs, Sondermann is convinced that a passive immunotherapy — synthetic, clean antibodies generated in a different system — is needed in this context.
“In a couple of indications, from vaccination studies, that there seems to be a pretty nice correlation between antibody titer and prognosis for the patients,” he said. “So if patients have a high antibody titer against specific TACAs, they have also much better prognosis than patients that do not develop a titer.”
So far the biotech has elected several potential TACA targets for further preclinical validation and consulted some CROs who can help with the antibodies. The goal is to have one lead structure ready for the clinic by the time they burn through the initial funding.
“Besides establishing the company and our discovery platform for lead generation, we will use these funds to explore relevant TACA biology in detail,” he added in a statement.
Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund co-led the €7 million funding with Kurma Partners, joined by Idinvest Partners, High-Tech Gründerfonds, coparion, and Creathor Ventures.
Its parent drugmaker has laid eyes on this class of targets for at least two years. In 2017, the Boehringer Ingelheim inked a discovery alliance with Newton, MA-based biotech Siamab in search of antibodies hitting one specific, but unnamed, TACA, with an option to add a second.
Siamab was bagged by a mysterious large player last month in a deal worth up to $202 million.