Flexing one's (bispecific) Abs: Merck ups F-star deal, EpiMab contracts WuXi

By Staff Reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock/Wavebreakmedia
Image: iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Related tags Immune system Antibody Wuxi biologics

Germany’s Merck expands its partnership with F-star and EpimAb Biotherapeutics contracts WuXi Biologics. Welcome to our round-up of bispecific antibody news.

The first deal extends a partnership inked in 2011 between Merck KGaA and Cambridge,UK-based antibody engineering firm F-star for development of Fc-based targeted biologics andbi-specific IgG-based targeted biologics.

The extension gives Merck the option to acquire up to five of F-star’s immune-oncology bispecific programmes, including the rights to its lead asset FS118, designed to block LAG-3 (Lymphocyte-Activation Gene 3) and PD-L1 (Programmed Death-Ligand 1).

If taken, Merck will pay up to €115m ($ 130m) in upfront, R&D funding and milestone payments in the first two years.

As the name suggests, bispecific antibodies bind two different epitopes either on the same, or on different target. F-star’s tech platform is based on building blocks which can slot into existing antibodies and make them bispecific, creating a novel binding site in the Fc region of any existing antibody in a 'plug and play' manner.

EpiMab and WuXi

The second deal – financials of which have not been divulged – will see the Chinese contract development and manufacturing organisation (CDMO) establish the chemistry, manufacturing and control (CMC) for EpimAb’s lead candidate.

With WuXi on board, the Shanghai, China-based biotech hopes it will file an IND for the bispecific antibody mid-2018.

“Our first proprietary drug candidate is on track to enter clinical development next year,”​ EpimAb CEO Chengbin Wu said. “With a global leading biologics services provider like WuXi Biologics, offering comprehensive, integrated and highly customisable services, we are well positioned to keep up our high pace in developing and growing the value of EpimAb’s pipeline.”

EMB-01 is a bispecific antibody developed using EpimAb’s proprietary Fabs-In-Tandem Immunoglobulin (FIT-Ig) platform.

According to COO Stephan Lensky, the FIT-Ig platform is a "novel approach"​ to generating bispecific antibodies. He told Biopharma-Reporter: "Bispecifics based on FIT-Ig fully retain biological properties of both of their parental monoclonal antibodies without the need to significantly modify the basic structural elements of an antibody. This provides many advantages when comparing to other existing technologies."

He added the deal will see WuXi carry out the work at their sites in China where all relevant capabilities are well established.

"WuXi Biologics is a global leading biologics service provider offering comprehensive, integrated and highly customizable services; they provide an excellent fit for a highly innovative program like EMB-01."

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