ATHENS, Ga.—Abeome Corp. announced in late April a research collaboration agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the identification of novel antibodies binding to the Zika virus, using Abeome’s proprietary AbeoMouse platform. The collaborative agreement calls for the generation of novel monoclonal antibodies specifically recognizing the Zika virus, which will be validated across related viruses for diagnostic purposes, and in cell culture and animal models of Zika infection for therapeutic potential.
The Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, has over 5,000 cases now reported in the continental United States. Zika virus infection has been associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and infection during pregnancy has been associated with microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. However, high evolutionary conservation between Zika and other flaviviruses (such as those causing West Nile, dengue and yellow fevers) have made the development of rapid antibody-based tests specifically for Zika infection particularly challenging.
“We are very pleased to collaborate with the CDC using our proprietary antibody discovery platform, AbeoMouse, for the rapid discovery of monoclonal antibodies. It is our hope that antibodies emerging from this collaboration may have significant diagnostic and therapeutic potential in the battle against Zika,” stated Dr. Richard A. Shimkets, president and CEO of Abeome.
Shimkets tells DDNews, “In 2016, staff from both [Abeome and the CDC] met at a scientific conference and discussed the recent innovations in Abeome’s technology, which led to deeper discussions about the use of AbeoMouse on emerging pathogens.” This isn’t the first time Abeome has worked with the CDC. “In 2005, Abeome made a panel of antibodies to nine strains of the influenza virus provided by the CDC, using Abeome’s DiSH technology,” notes Shimkets. “It was a proof-of-concept study to determine whether antibodies could be made to distinguish different strains of influenza.”
AbeoMouse is a patented triple transgenic mouse that overexpresses the B cell receptor, creating B cells which both surface express and secrete antibodies. “AbeoMouse makes high affinity antibodies very rapidly, and the antibody surface-expression properties of AbeoMouse B cells allow for the rapid selection of only those antibody-producing B cells of interest,” Shimkets explains. “For example, in this project, finding Zika-specific antibodies that do not bind to the closely related dengue, yellow fever, West Nile virus or Spondweni would be like looking for needles in a haystack. By coupling the non-Zika proteins to magnetic beads and then physically removing all the B cells from Zika-immunized mice that are not specific enough, the subsequent selection of Zika-specific antibody-producing B cells represents a massive enrichment of our target antibodies.”
“Abeome has developed a rapid method for extracting the antibody genes from the B cells and making the antibodies recombinantly. We routinely apply these same principles to the discovery of therapeutic antibody leads, where high affinity and strong specificity are very important. We have an emerging therapeutic antibody pipeline, with our lead product being a high affinity antibody to Interleukin 25,” he continues.
“The design and ultimate manufacture of a very robust field test for Zika is a major goal of the partnership; the potential for therapeutic antibodies has not been ruled out. We would likely seek a manufacturing partner who would license the antibodies and sell them as a diagnostic worldwide,” Shimkets says. “This same technological approach could be applied quickly to other rapidly emerging pathogens.”
According to Shimkets, the AbeoMouse platform and its products are available through partnerships and antibody product licensing. The DiSH technology is distributed via a kit by Enzo Life Sciences, and has been commercially licensed for therapeutic antibody development. “Abeome plans to bring its therapeutic antibody candidates into clinical development to generate therapeutic products for allergic diseases such as asthma, as well as immuno-oncology. Our full pipeline is described on our website,” Shimkets concludes.