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Shire taps antibody discovery platform using llama immune systems

By Zachary Brennan , 20-Sep-2013
Last updated on 20-Sep-2013 at 15:30 GMT

arGEN-X has earned a milestone payment from Shire
arGEN-X has earned a milestone payment from Shire

A new platform to help biopharma companies discover antibodies is also helping them go after more difficult targets and earn more collaborations with top biopharma companies.

Proof of the platform’s success for arGEN-X has resulted in a milestone payment from rare treatment developer Shire Pharmaceuticals. The undisclosed payment announced Thursday was the first demonstration of in vivo proof of concept for one of the antibody discovery programs. The companies are working to create human therapeutic antibodies against complex targets involved in severe and rare genetic diseases. 

Tim Van Hauwermeiren, CEO of arGEN-X, told BioPharma-Reporter that the company’s antibody discovery platform, which uses llama antibodies rather than the industry “gold standard” of transgenic mice. 

But the llama antibodies offer several advantages over the inbred, transgenic mice, Van Hauwermeiren told us, because of the diversity of the outbred llamas, universal epitope coverage and how easy it is to generate an immune response with the llama antibodies. 

While proteins of therapeutic interest are often conserved between human and transgenic mice, they are highly divergent between human and llama. This makes llamas able to mount high affinity antibody responses – often human/mouse cross-reactive – against any therapeutic target. 

Following the creation of large libraries of diverse, target-specific antibodies, arGEN-X applies disease-relevant functional assays that enable selection of unique and differentiated therapeutic candidates. Upfront in the drug discovery process, the company is able to screen for rodent cross-reactive clones, which facilitate preclinical studies on candidates of interest. 

And together with other proprietary technology licensed from BioWa Inc., which boosts antibody-mediated cell killing properties, arGEN-X can generate differentiated antibody therapeutics. 

Being outbred, llamas have no blind spots in their immune systems, meaning that diverse antibodies covering virtually any target epitope can be found – even on highly complex targets.

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