ZURICH-SCHLIEREN, Switzerland—Covagen has announced the expansion of its research collaboration with Tanabe Research Laboratories USA Inc. (TRL), a fully owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corp. (MTPC). MTPC and TRL have selected the first bispecific FynomAb for preclinical development and also exercised an option for a second bispecific FynomAb program.
This expansion builds off of the companies’ original strategic research collaboration and license agreement, which was announced in October 2012 and represented the first time Covagen and TRL had worked together. The agreement stipulated that Covagen would utilize its Fynomer-antibody platform to generate bispecific proteins against two target pairs chosen by TRL and Mitsubishi Tanabe, with Mitsubishi Tanabe to pay Covagen €4 million (approximately $5.4 million) up front for global, exclusive rights to FynomAbs against one target pair. Mitsubishi Tanabe also agreed to fund all research activities, with sole responsibility for development, manufacturing and global commercialization activities. The original agreement made Covagen eligible for research, development and regulatory milestone payments of up to €108.25 million (approximately $148 million) for FynomAbs against the first target pair, as well as tiered royalties on worldwide net sales of resulting products.
Elias Papatheodorou, chief business officer at Covagen, tells DDNews that the first program will focus on inflammation, while the second will be focused on oncology. Specific targets were not disclosed.
“We believe Covagen’s FynomAb platform is a source of innovative bispecific antibodies with excellent biophysical properties that will allow more effective treatment of inflammatory and oncologic diseases,” Roland Newman, chief scientific officer of TRL, noted in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our cooperative work with the Covagen team as we advance the first FynomAb into preclinical development and look towards discovery of the second FynomAb as part of this expanded collaboration.”
“FynomAbs are bispecific or trispecific therapeutics which we generate by fusing binding moieties, the Fynomers, to an antibody of choice. Fynomers itself are very small proteins, derived from the human interacellular protein domain Fyn SH3, whose use as binding moieties was discovered by one of Covagen’s cofounders, Dr. Dragan Grabulovski,” explains Papatheodorou. “Our uniqueness is that we can fuse Fynomers to all possible ends of the antibody and as such generate bi- and trispecifics with tailored ‘architectures.’ We can then compare molecules with different architectures and select the most efficacious one—the one that has the properties we’re looking for. The generation of protein therapeutics with an optimized architecture differentiates us from other bispecifc technologies available today.”
The Fynomers do not change the characteristics of the base antibody, or its binding properties or function, Papatheodorou stresses. The antibody remains specific for its intended target, while the Fynomers represent the binding portion for a second target.
“By having a bispecific or trispecific molecule, what you’re looking for is to create a molecule where its targets have a synergistic effect, and you clearly expect that synergistic effect would lead to much higher efficacy,” Papatheodorou explains.
“The expansion to a second bispecific FynomAb program is the result of the successful discovery and early preclinical development of the FynomAb from the original collaboration,” Grabulovski said in a press release. “This FynomAb was generated less than one year after initiating the joint research collaboration and showed excellent activity in predefined in-vitro and in-vivo studies. Our work with the MTPC and TRL team has been extremely productive, and we are eager to continue development of both projects.”
This expansion was followed shortly by additional good news for Covagen, as it announced that a tranched Series B financing round had netted the company 42 million Swiss francs (approximately $57.4 million), with an option for an additional 14 million Swiss francs (approximately $19.1 million). Covagen will be using the funds for the clinical development of its lead FynomAb COVA322, a bispecific TNF/IL-17A inhibitor for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Clinical trials for COVA322 are expected to begin early next year.