Leading proteomics player gets a trio of new partners; GV tries to prevent cervical cancer
A little over 6 months ago, John Baker got on a call from a CEO with a strange request.
Baker is head of innovation at Abcam, a British company that provides life science research tools to labs and companies around the world. A lot of the firm’s work involves supplying highly specific antibodies that allow scientists to detect the presence of or fish out a specific protein in a sample.
Sujal Patel, CEO of Nautilus Biotechnology, wanted basically the opposite. “Their first call to us was, ‘Hey, guys, we’re looking for some really bad antibodies,’” Baker recalled. “‘What have you got beyond trenching in a freezer for things that had failed?’”
A bad antibody is one that binds to a wide set of targets. To most researchers, such a molecule would be useless: Put them in a sample and you wouldn’t know if they were binding to the protein you wanted, or a completely unrelated protein.
Nautilus, though, is one of a handful of companies trying to win the growing, multi-billion dollar proteomics race. Several well-financed biotechs are trying to devise methods to find the exact number and type of protein in any given cell or sample, in hopes that it can then point the path to new treatments.
Nautilus claims the method they’re building, designed by Stanford professor and now Nautilus chief scientist Parag Mallick, can offer greater detail than its competitors. It does so, Mallick said, by immobilizing all the proteins in a sample, allowing them to be interrogated more closely. (Some other methods, such as peptide sequencing, actually destroy the proteins they’re measuring.)
Although the platform is as yet unproven, the company is working with Genentech to analyze proteins on an undisclosed target. They announced two more such partnerships with Amgen and an undisclosed investigator at MD Anderson on Monday, the latter of which will focus on a particular protein target in cancer.
The idea is that, for example, a cancer drug may work differently on two patients with the same mutant protein because of small differences in the conformation — or shape — of the proteins. By understanding those differences, you might design better proteins.
“The reason why some of these therapeutics work may come down to that level of detail,” Mallick said.
To immobilize enough proteins in a sample, though, they needed antibodies that could bind a long list of them, a different problem than the one Abcam and other research companies are used to solving. But once Baker understood the issue, he agreed it was a fun challenge. The two companies are now beginning to try to design and isolate the best worst antibodies. — Jason Mast
GV backs a biotech aimed at preventing cervical cancer
The virtual biotech Antiva closed a new round of financing Tuesday morning. Antiva raised $31 million in a Series D equity financing, the company said, aiming to advance its treatments for precancerous lesions caused by HPV.
Tuesday’s raise was led by Adjuvant Capital and joined by other prominent investors such as Google’s GV. The company said proceeds will go toward the lead candidate, including advancing it into Phase I and Phase IIa clinical trials for high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasias.
Antiva said the molecule, known as ABI-2280, is a prodrug of an acyclic nucleoside phosphonate that directly blocks HPV replication.
“As a non-surgical treatment, ABI-2280 has the potential to offer a therapeutic that can preserve women’s reproductive health, be self-administered at home, and improve access to care in underserved communities where OB/GYN resources are scarce,” CEO Gail Maderis said in a statement. — Max Gelman
Metacrine unveils more NASH data after retreating from the field
When Metacrine announced that it will halt development of its FXR agonist MET642 in NASH and focus on the inflammatory bowel disease application instead, the biotech insisted the drug had performed well in a Phase IIa trial.
Now, the biotech said a similar candidate — MET409 — has also passed a Phase IIa test on safety, tolerability and pharmacology.
In the 12-week trial, a combination of MET409 and the SGLT2 inhibitor Jardiance spurred a reduction in liver fat content among patients with type 2 diabetes and NASH. A total of 132 patients were randomized into four groups: One of them received a combo while the other three got the individual treatments and placebo, respectively.
For Metacrine, the data support a combination approach that it says will be necessary to tackle NASH.
“NASH is closely linked to several co-morbidities, with an estimated 65% of type 2 diabetes patients also having NASH,” CMO Hubert Chen said in a statement. “These results showcase the multiple mechanisms that drive NASH and the promise of novel combination approaches in bringing new therapies to patients.”