ADC deals: Ajinomoto and Exelixis team up, French biotech secures funding for payload program

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Love Employee
© GettyImages/Love Employee

Related tags Antibody drug conjugate payload Ajinomoto Bio-Pharma

There has been a flurry of antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) agreements in recent weeks, and today sees the inking of another deal involving Tokyo headquartered Ajinomoto Co Inc and US biotech, Exelixis.

Ajinomoto has secured a license agreement whereby its site-specific bioconjugation and linker technologies will be deployed in certain Exelixis’ ADC development programs.

Utilizing its network of biotherapeutics collaborations, Exelixis is developing next generation ADCs for the treatment of various cancers.

As part of the license agreement, Exelixis, which is located in Alameda, California, will have the right to use the Japanese company’s AJICAP technology to support its goal of advancing multiple ADCs with the potential for higher efficacy and lower toxicity than currently available options. Ajinomoto is eligible to receive development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments as well as royalties on commercial sales.

Ajinomoto said its site-specific bioconjugation and stable linker technologies, AJICAP, include an ‘off-the-shelf’ feature, allowing any therapeutic antibody at any stage of development to be conjugated to drug-payloads of choice without the need for antibody engineering or cell line development, and stable/hydrophilic linkers to generate antibody-drug conjugates with an enhanced therapeutic window.

“The combination of Exelixis’ antibodies and payloads with Ajinomoto Co’s AJICAP opens up a wide range of oncology applications,”​ said Dr Tatsuya Okuzumi, general manager, business development group, Bio-Pharma Services Department, Ajinomoto.

Exelixis has been busy forging other alliances in this space. In November last year, it entered into a new license agreement with Catalent, under which the CDMO's Redwood Bioscience subsidiary would grant Exelixis an exclusive license to three target programs with lead antibody and/or ADC candidates.

Dr Adam Collier, chief business officer at Spirea, a UK biotech that was spun out of the University of Cambridge, and which has a pipeline of ADC therapeutics, spoke to BioPharma-Reporter last June about why ADCs are attracting such interest: “ADCs are a great drug concept, as they combine the potent tumour killing activity of a small molecule with the tumour targeting of an antibody. In theory, they should replace the poorly tolerated chemotherapy agents currently in such wide use.”

He stressed though that there is still work needing to be done to optimize the potential of ADCs, in order to maximize their efficacy and reduce side-effects.

Next generation payload

Meanwhile, in other recent ADC developments, French biotech, Diaccurate, announced last week that it has received support from Bpifrance aimed at supporting its DIACC2020 program. That initiative is looking to establish the preclinical proof-of-concept of its molecule, DIACC2010, as a next-generation payload for ADCs, for the treatment of solid and hematologic tumors.

The amount of funding secured was not disclosed. 

DIACC2010, it outlined, is a sole-in-class selective inhibitor of kinesin KIF20A, an oncology target, involved in the functions of the Golgi apparatus and the control of cell division.

The company said its ASH poster presentation​ demonstrated how the molecule has shown preclinical antitumor efficacy in aggressive models of Acute Myeloid Leukemia and solid tumors, including breast cancer.

Its efficacy profile together with the lack of toxicity towards normal cells strongly support the evaluation of DIACC2010 conjugated to therapeutic antibodies, for the development of a new generation of optimized ADCs, said Diaccurate.

The work supported by Bpifrance is expected to show, in preclinical tumor models, that ADCs bearing DIACC2010 as payload are more efficacious and better tolerated than their referent ADC counterparts, thus improving their therapeutic index and broaden their potential indications.

The workplan is set to run for 18 months up to the preclinical proof-of-concept in at least two models of human tumors.

Preliminary efficacy and toxicity results will be available by the end of 2023 and will support potential license agreements with pharmaceutical companies, said the French firm. 

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