Roche, Molecular Partners team up for DARPin-based cancer therapeutics

Deal could total more than $1 billion for Molecular Partners if all milestones are reached

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BASEL, Switzerland—Roche and Molecular Partners AG have announced the establishment of a research collaboration and licensing agreement for the discovery, development and commercialization of multiple proprietary therapeutics making using of Molecular Partners’ DARPin biologics conjugated with toxic agents developed by Roche to treat cancer.
Per the terms of the collaboration and licensing agreement, Roche will have the rights to develop and commercialize a number of products based on the DARPin technology. For its part, Molecular Partners will be eligible to receive upfront and initial payments of up to CHF 55 million (approximately $61.6 million), in addition to research funding and the potential for more than CHF 1 billion (approximately $1.1 billion) if all development and sales milestones are achieved for all potential products under the agreement. Molecular Partners also stands to receive tiered double-digit royalties on sales of any resultant products under the agreement.
“Roche is one of the top players in oncology, and specifically the toxic payload field. By combining its technical and commercial expertise with our DARPin R&D expertise, we can rapidly develop a pipeline of highly differentiated products offering a novel approach to treating patients far more quickly than we could do independently, offering new hope for patients with unmet medical need,” Christian Zahnd, Ph.D., CEO of Molecular Partners, commented in a statement. “The DARPin-drug conjugate is an exciting new product direction for us alongside our internal proprietary DARPins and our existing partnerships in ophthalmology and immunology.”
DARPins are small, non-antibody-based proteins in which a variable region has been engineered for target binding. They offer “exceptional potency and target specificity,” Molecular Partners explains on its site, as the proteins can be adjusted to bind to any target molecule, allowing them to serve as agonists, antagonists or inhibitors. The proteins bind to different epitopes than antibodies do, and can bind to several targets at the same time. In addition, Molecular Partners’ DARPin technology platform is capable of further engineering drug candidates for benefits such as enhanced pharmacokinetic properties (such as a longer half-life), “adaptation to carry various effector function or multiple binding specificities.” The company also notes that any format of a DARPin can be developed to cGMP standards in “low-cost and high-yield bacterial fermentation.”
In terms of their potential for anti-cancer therapeutics, Molecular Partners points out that DARPins’ small size and high potency “allow for excellent tumor enrichment, tumor tissue penetration and high contrast over healthy tissue,” with preclinical studies of DARPins targeting angiogenesis showing multi-specific DARPins to engender additive and synergistic anti-tumor effects.
“We are excited about this collaboration as the DARPin platform is truly complementary to our internal capabilities in the large molecule space,” Sylke Poehling, head of Large Molecule Research at Roche, said in a press release. “In the field of drug conjugates, we have identified an excellent opportunity to combine our expertise with the leading company in non-antibody scaffold technology to develop transformative cancer medicines.”

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