HGS, Morphotek take aim at genomics-derived targets

The two companies will collaborate to discover, develop and commercialize antibodies for oncology and immunology

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ROCKVILLE, Md.—In a move aimed at widening its pipeline and commercializing its late-stage compounds, Rockville, Md.-based Human Genome Sciences Inc. (HGS) has sealed a collaborative deal with Exton, Pa.-based Morphotek to discover and develop antibodies for oncology and immunology—specifically targeting antigens to help isolate potential drug compounds discovered by HGS.

The collaboration agreement, announced March 25, allows for HGS to use Morphotek's technology to help isolate potential drug compounds. Morphotek has developed a system that controls how and when a gene repairs its own naturally-occurring mutations during cell division.

H. Thomas Watkins, president and CEO of HGS, believes the collaboration is an example of forward-thinking that will bode well for the future.

"The rapid commercialization of our late-stage compounds continues to be the priority focus of HGS," Watkins says. "At the same time, we also remain committed to advancing our early- and mid-stage programs in development to ensure sustainable growth well into the future."

Nicholas Nicolaides, president and CEO of Morphotek, a subsidiary of Eisai Corp. of North America, says the agreement represents "a broad use of genomics-derived targets and validation using an antibody-based platform technology. This is a continuation of our business model of leveraging access to targets from collaborators identified by using their internal expertise/technologies."

"Applying Morphotek's technologies to develop lead antibodies validates the therapeutic potential of our antibodies in preclinical and, if warranted, clinical studies," Nicolaides says. "Our proprietary technologies have been applied successfully to a variety of biological targets, which have been identified based on disease expression profiles, company strategic focus and market need/potential."

Although the financial terms of the collaboration are not disclosed, each party has the opportunity to participate or opt-out of development and commercialization, Nicolaides says. Under certain circumstances, HGS and Morphotek may share research and development, manufacturing and commercialization costs. The stage time of opting will determine milestone and royalty rates.

Under the terms of the agreement, Morphotek will be responsible for validating targets discovered through genomic research and provided by HGS, generating and developing all monoclonal antibody candidates using proprietary Morphotek technologies and conducting early preclinical proof-of-concept studies.

Over the past three years, HGS has selected approximately 50 targets for further research and potential development. HGS plans to develop the selected targets through co-development or research collaborations, including the agreement with Morphotek, as well as its own internal research.

Morphotek's technologies have been successfully applied to a variety of molecules that are suitable for pharmaceutical product development of antibody therapeutics, protein therapeutics, product manufacturing, drug target discovery and improved output traits for commercial applications. The company is currently focusing its platform on the development and manufacturing of therapeutic antibodies for the treatment of cancer, inflammation and infectious disease.

HGS' stated mission is to bring innovative drugs to patients with unmet medical needs. The HGS clinical development pipeline includes novel drugs to treat hepatitis C, lupus, inhalation anthrax and cancer.

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