New antibody-drug conjugate partnership has oncology focus

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/dusanpetkovic
© GettyImages/dusanpetkovic

Related tags: antibody-drug conjugates, Oncology

Sterling Pharma Solutions, a global contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO), has announced a new strategic partnership with ADC Biotechnology, a UK based company specializing in antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs).

The partnership will see Sterling make a significant investment in the business with a view to acquiring ADC Biotechnology (ADC Bio) in the first quarter of 2021, subject to due diligence. 

The announcement follows Sterling’s acquisition of a second US development and manufacturing facility in Wisconsin in September. The UK headquartered CDMO now employs over 700 people across the UK and the US.

The two businesses said they will work together to develop an integrated service offering for existing and potential customers, combining ADC Bio’s expertise with Sterling’s high potency small molecule expertise.

Kevin Cook, CEO at Sterling, hopes that the combined expertise and targeted investment will be a strong competitive force in the race to find the latest generation of drugs in the oncology area.

Alan Raymond, executive chairman of ADC Bio, said the team at ADC Bio have been at the forefront of antibody-drug bioconjugation and process development, supporting important advances in oncology with its clients in recent years. “This strategic partnership will allow us to further develop this service with significant investment in the right areas of the business, which is great news for our employees and our customers. We are looking forward to working with the team at Sterling.”

Overcoming ADC developmental hurdles 

This month also saw Spirea, a spin-out from the University of Cambridge, which was founded to deliver the next generation of ADC cancer therapeutics, secure financing​ from o2h Ventures and Syndicate Room. The investment will be used to enable Spirea’s ADC therapeutic programs ahead of a significant seed funding round anticipated in 2021.

ADC drugs combine the cell killing activity of a cytotoxic drug payload with the targeting ability of an antibody. However, toxic side-effects, limited flexibility, and the resulting limitations in the range of cancers that can be treated have restricted the field and caused many clinical programs to stall, outlined Spirea. 

It claims that its technology overcomes these issues by offering high drug-to-antibody ratio (DAR) and a design flexibility which enables the development of differentiated ADCs with improved efficacy and safety. Because the technology allows more drug to be loaded onto the targeting antibody whilst maintaining drug stability, payloads can also be customized to the target, enabling flexibility in payload potencies, creative drug combinations and novel modes of action to serve a wider patient group, it added.

Merck acquires ADC player 

In other related market developments, Merck announced in early November​ that it had acquired San Diego's VelosBio in a $2.75bn deal, and that, by doing so, it would strengthen its oncology pipeline with an investigational ADC.

VelosBio is a privately held clinical-stage bio which is developing cancer therapies targeting receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor 1 (ROR1). Its lead investigational candidate is VLS-101, an ADC targeting ROR1 which is currently in Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials.

Dr Roger M Perlmutter, president, Merck Research Laboratories, said: “We continue to bolster our growing oncology pipeline with strategic acquisitions that both complement our current portfolio and strengthen our long-term growth potential. Pioneering work by VelosBio scientists has yielded VLS-101, which in early studies has provided notable evidence of activity in heavily pretreated patients with refractory hematological malignancies, including mantel cell lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.”

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