Winning the hand of the girl next door

Combination of MorphoSys and Sloning technologies set to increase success rates in drug development

Lloyd Dunlap
MUNICH, Germany—It's not uncommon to search the world over, only to find your perfect mate living next door. Without stretching the metaphor, that summarizes MorphoSys AG's recent acquisition of its neighboring company, privately held Sloning BioTechnology GmbH.

The transaction will make MorphoSys the sole provider of Sloning's patented Slonomics technology, which is said to dramatically improve the assembly and quality of protein libraries. Sloning's shareholders received a one-off $26.3 million cash payment upon signing.
 
Located only a few kilometers away in Puchheim, Sloning's proximity will ease its integration into MorphoSys, says company CEO Dr. Simon Moroney. He adds that MorphoSys intends to retain Sloning's existing staff "as their broad experience using their technology will help us realize the full potential of the combined platform. We will also maintain the premises in Puchheim."

"This transaction secures our position at the forefront of antibody technology," Moroney states. "Sloning's unique technology is the most powerful method available for assembling protein libraries and has been proven to deliver superior products for a range of applications. We plan to use it to generate optimized antibodies much faster than can be done today and also to gain access to antibodies that simply can't be made with current technologies. In quantitative terms, we expect to shorten the time needed to generate an antibody drug candidate by a third and even more importantly, to increase the proportion of programs reaching clinical development to 50 percent. Our goal is to translate these expectations into reality, for the benefit of our partnered and proprietary drug programs, and ultimately of course, the shareholders of MorphoSys."

Moroney notes that Sloning's key patents don't expire until late 2023.

Explaining the "one in two" odds of a specific program reaching clinical development, Dr. Marlies Sproll, chief scientific officer of MorphoSys, notes that, "Current antibody generation technologies make use of an initial immunoglobulin repertoire, which largely determines the properties of the resulting antibody. MorphoSys's HuCAL technology relies on a modular design for antibody optimization. Currently, our antigen-binding regions are sequentially replaced using modular cassettes that are pre-assembled by a technology called TRInucleotide Mutagenesis technology, or TRIM for short. As a result, HuCAL relies on the exchange of defined building blocks or gene cassettes."

Sloning's technology enables MorphoSys to optimize all regions of the antibody simultaneously, Sproll adds.

"Slonomics will allow us to rapidly test multiple generations of antibodies, equivalent to screening many billions of molecules, in order to isolate the best possible candidate," he says. "It allows for the first time a project-specific preparation of antibody libraries, with exciting possibilities for fulfilling the requirements of the project, optimizing affinity, reducing immunogenicity, improving developability and fine-tuning many other important antibody characteristics. In essence, the combination of Slonomics and our existing MorphoSys technologies allows us to translate the entire antibody knowledge gained over the last two decades into accelerated generation of a fully optimized antibody drug candidate."

"We believe that the two companies' technology portfolios and extensive expertise will lead to superior therapeutic, diagnostic and industrial products," comments Sloning CEO Dr. Heinz Schwer, who will join MorphoSys as a member of the senior management team.

MorphoSys has become a leader in the field of therapeutic antibodies, one of the fastest-growing drug classes in human healthcare. Through its alliances with some of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies, MorphoSys has created a pipeline of more than 60 drug candidates. The company is expanding its drug pipeline by adding new partnered programs, and by building a portfolio of fully owned therapeutic antibodies. For its proprietary portfolio, the company is focused on the areas of oncology and inflammation. Its most advanced program, MOR103, a first-in-class, fully human antibody against GM-CSF, is currently being tested in a Phase Ib/IIa trial in rheumatoid arthritis patients.



MorphoSys and Proteros Biostructures to develop technology platform for structure-based antibody engineering

MARTINSRIED, Germany—MorphoSys AG and Proteros Biostructures announced last month that they have been awarded a $1.2 million grant by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to establish a technology platform for efficient structural characterization of antibody-antigen-complexes.

MorphoSys will provide relevant antigen and antibody molecules, while Proteros will provide advanced X-ray technology and computational chemistry know-how.

The companies will analyze MorphoSys' proprietary clinical anti-inflammatory antibody MOR103 and the binding properties to its corresponding antigen GM-CSF. MOR103 is a fully human HuCAL antibody directed against GM-CSF (granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor), being developed in the area of inflammatory diseases, for example rheumatoid arthritis. Due to its diverse functions in the immune system, GM-CSF can be considered a target for a broad spectrum of anti-inflammatory therapies. The program is currently being evaluated in a European clinical Phase Ib/IIa trial in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the companies, the high-resolution access to antibody-antigen complex structures will allow a faster and more efficient engineering of therapeutic antibodies.

"Early clarification of the precise interaction between antibody and antigen is very valuable information in drug discovery, as it can help in identifying the most promising lead candidate or in generating improved follow-up compounds by directed molecular evolution," says Dr. Marlies Sproll, chief scientific officer of MorphoSys.


Lloyd Dunlap

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