Cancer-hunting shark proteins are the future of drug conjugation, says Almac

By Fiona BARRY

- Last updated on GMT

The proteins are humanised versions of those found in spiny dogfish sharks (Image: Sergi Balaguer/CC)
The proteins are humanised versions of those found in spiny dogfish sharks (Image: Sergi Balaguer/CC)

Related tags Monoclonal antibodies Antibody

Almac is coupling tiny shark proteins to a cancer-killing warhead to develop an oncology drug, saying their small size makes for easy conjugation. 

The collaboration with University of Aberdeen spin-out firm Elasmogen uses humanised antibody-like proteins discovered in spiny dogfish sharks. The companies have named their molecules – which measure one-twelfth the size of a human mAb – Solomer.

Iain James, Almac Discovery Vice President for preclinical and clinical development, told the shark proteins are useful for drug delivery because their small size allows them to be conjugated to a cytotoxic drug.   

The reason for going for the shark molecules is they are much smaller than mammalian monoclonal antibodies. So the idea is they will penetrate tissue and tumours a lot more efficiently than the large monoclonals.​” 

The proteins – humanised versions of antigen receptor domain antibody fragments (vNARs) – can target particular tumours in the same way as an antibody-drug conjugate, binding to proteins on the surface of cancer cells. 

Almac-Elasmogen collaboration reflects an industry-wide search for smaller targeting proteins, which have advantages over mAbs, said James.  Shark vNARs are recognised as among the smallest known immunoglobulin-based protein scaffolds. 

The proteins in this deal are provided by the University of Aberdeen, while Almac is contributing site-specific conjugation technology which will couple the molecules to the cytotoxic part of the drug. 

The organisations have honed in on an unnamed immuno-oncology target as the core of their collaboration. The compound is in very early preclinical stages, with a preclinical candidate expected to be ready for toxicology tests “within a couple of years.​” 

The parties are sharing development costs, with Almac having an option on all commercialisation revenue.


Elasmogen works within the University of Aberdeen’s Scottish Biologics Drug Discovery Facility. It received a US patent in February for its shark-derived vNAR drugs. The original work, which modified vNAR from an immunised shark into a humanised form, received £1.5m ($2.3m) by Scottish Enterprise and by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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