F-Star, Merck Serono ink inflammatory disease deal

F-Star GmbH, a specialist in antibody engineering, has secured a second partner for its novel antibody formats as Merck Serono SA has signed an inflammatory disease deal with the company, one with a value of $691.1 million.

Kelsey Kaustinen
LONDON—F-Star GmbH, a specialist in antibody engineering,has secured a second partner for its novel antibody formats as Merck Serono SAhas signed an inflammatory disease deal with the company, one with a value of$691.1 million. The partners will work with "up to three" targets selected byMerck Serono as the basis for the joint discovery of antibody fragments as wellas bi-specific antibodies. F-Star will receive research funding as well as atechnology access fee, and license fees and milestones will be paid out as theprojects progress. While no additional financial details were released, KevinFitzGerald, F-Star's CEO, said in a press release that achieving the full$691.1 million value would require commercialization of products.
 
 
"We certainly value our partnerships," FitzGeraldsaid in a press release. "They have real benefits that go beyond early andmidterm cash. They are a great validation for the technology, great internallyin terms of motivating our people and showing pharma is interested in ourtechnology," he said, adding that Merck Serono Ventures, the venturecapital arm of Merck Serono, has been a supportive investor.
 
F-Star's modular antibody technology allows it to engineeradditional antigen-binding sites into both antibodies and antibody fragments.Its Fcab antibody fragments enable the production of entities a third of thesize of normal antibodies with the same functionality but a longer half-lifethan antibody fragments usually have. Fcabs, according to FitzGerald, can beused as therapeutic products or as modules for generating mAb2 antibodies.F-Star's mAb2, or bi-specific, antibodies offer great functionality than theirconventional counterparts as well as the option of having two binding sites forthe same disease antigen, dual targeting against a second antigen or using theadditional binding site for the delivery of the antibody to a specific tissue.
 
"We believe that F-Star's modular antibody technologyhas the potential to offer important functional advantages over conventionalantibodies and will potentially allow us to generate highly differentiateddrugs," Susan Herbert, head of portfolio development at Merck Serono, saidin a press release.
 
 
The collaboration with Merck Serono is the second such dealin recent months for F-Star, as the company signed a seven-target deal withBoehringer Ingelheim GmbH 10 months ago, a deal that is worth $245.4 millionper target. At the same time, the company is also working on an in-houseportfolio, the lead products of which have reached preclinical testing.FitzGerald noted that the different binding characteristics observed invitro have begun to manifest in animalmodels as well, adding that "We are seeing some very promising results invitro and in vivo, with different binding site architecture, leadingto different biological responses, that can't be replicated with conventionalantibodies."
 
 
The company has been busy this year on several fronts,including, in March, the closing of a $20.6 million funding round led by SROne, the corporate venture capital arm of GlaxoSmithKline plc. F-Star'sexisting ventures also took part, including Atlas Venture, Aescap Venture, NovoVentures, TVM Capital, Merck Serono Ventures and MP Healthcare VentureManagement. The funds are intended to allow F-Star "to take at least oneproduct into Phase I," according to FitzGerald.
 
 
SOURCE: Bioworld press release

Kelsey Kaustinen

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