A helping hand from Hemibody

MorphoSys licenses Hemibody technology from Cherry Biolabs in hopes of improving T cell-based therapeutics

January 26, 2021
Kelsey Kaustinen
A helping hand from Hemibody

PLANEGG, Germany—MorphoSys AG has joined forces with Cherry Biolabs GmbH, a spinoff from the University Hospital Würzburg, for a licensing agreement focused on Cherry Biolabs’ Hemibody technology. The agreement grants MorphoSys the rights to leverage Cherry Biolabs’ platform against six exclusive targets, and the companies believe it will provide an opportunity to generate novel T cell-engaging therapeutics with better safety and precision profiles. No financial details were disclosed.

“As part of its internal research efforts, MorphoSys is continuously looking to add new cutting-edge technologies with the aim of generating differentiated, more efficacious and safer antibody-based therapeutics for its proprietary pipeline, and the licensing agreement with Cherry Biolabs is an important step towards developing new treatments for cancer patients with unmet medical needs,” commented Dr. Jean-Paul Kress, CEO of MorphoSys. “The combination of MorphoSys’ proven track record in antibody discovery and development and Cherry Biolabs’ Hemibody technology has the potential to significantly broaden therapeutic approaches and improve patients’ lives.”

As explained on Cherry Biolabs’ site, “The essence of the technology is a T cell-engaging molecule that is split into two complementary fragments coined Hemibodies. Individual Hemibodies are inert but reconstitute T cell-engaging functions in vivo, after binding to an antigen combination uniquely expressed on cancer cells ...  Hemibodies address aberrant antigen-combinations that signify cancer cells only. After binding at the tumor cell surface, two complementary Hemibody molecules assemble and reconstitute a killer T cell-engaging unit for the immunological attack on cancer cells. Healthy bystanders that express only one of the target antigens but not the combination are spared.”

“Hemibodies are antibody fragments that gain T cell-engaging capabilities after binding to an antigen combination unique to tumor cells. Through its combinatorial pro-drug design, the Hemibody platform technology bears the potential to significantly increase the specificity of cancer treatments and reduce toxicity,” explained Prof. Gernot Stuhler, Cherry Biolabs’ founder and CEO. “With MorphoSys, we have found a very strong and competent licensee embracing this new modality; we are confident that MorphoSys will bring this innovative concept into the clinic to make a difference for patients.”

T cell-based treatments are a popular approach in combatting cancer, but as with many oncology treatments, finding the balance point between strong efficacy and minimal off-target effects can be a struggle.

“Today’s T cell-engaging bispecific antibody approaches have their challenges, particularly when applied to solid cancers. The often limited specificity of the tumor target typically hampers tolerability and thereby clinical efficacy,” remarked Dr. Martin Steegmaier, head of research at MorphoSys. “We believe that through dual targeting and highly specific activation of the cytotoxic T cells at the tumor site—which is what the Hemibody technology promises to provide—we will be able to take the precision and specificity of the tumor targeting concept to the next level and enable a substantially enlarged therapeutic window.”

“We’re particularly excited that this novel approach is not only potentially working in hematology, but it also has great potential in solid tumors. We believe that the sweet spot of the technology is on the solid tumor side, but it can also be a strong, powerful approach for some of the hematological malignancies,” Steegmaier adds.

“MorphoSys has a strong legacy and history in antibody discovery and engineering—highlighted, for example, by our technology platforms such as Ylanthia,” he continues. “The Hemibody technology, or what we refer to as the CyCAT approach, complements our internal technology platform. CyCAT stands for ‘cytotoxic cell activation at the tumor,’ and the Hemibody technology is the underlying principle of the platform. MorphoSys applies our existing antibody engineering and development expertise to transform this innovative Hemibody approach into a clinically applicable treatment paradigm.”

As for which areas in particular MorphoSys hopes to apply the Hemibody technology, Steegmaier tells DDN that “At this point in time it’s a little too early to say ‘these are the specific targets, molecules, or indications,’ but stay tuned.”

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