AnaptysBio says today the U.S. government has asked the San Diego biotech to produce antibodies that counter the deadly effects of ricin and would not require refrigeration, so batches of anti-ricin antibodies could be stored at room temperatures.
Under a contract funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), AnaptysBio says it is obligated to deliver anti-ricin antibodies to the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center, a Maryland-based agency regarded as the U.S. bulwark for chemical and biological defense. Financial terms and other details of the contract were not disclosed.
Ricin was known as a deadly toxin long before the bizarre incident in Mississippi last month that led authorities to arrest a former taekwondo instructor for trying to frame an Elvis impersonator by mailing ricin-laced letters to President Obama and other officials.
Federal authorities are clearly giving ricin special consideration as a kind of “gateway” agent of bioterrorism. Ricin is derived from the castor bean plant, a common ornamental that can be easily grown, and it is easier to make than other biological agents that are far more deadly, such as anthrax or botulinum toxin.
Soligenix, a specialized biotech in Princeton, NJ, has been working to develop a vaccine that could be used to immunize people against ricin exposure. According to the Soligenix website, however, so far there is no drug or vaccine that can be used to protect against ricin exposure or to reverse the effects after exposure.
AnaptysBio was founded in 2005 to advance technology for rapidly producing antibody drug candidates that have been optimized for specific targets. The company has established drug development partnerships with Merck, Roche, Novartis, Celgene, and Gilead, and has worked with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop room-temperature antibodies that could be used in biosensors to detect biological agents.
“What’s been key to those relationships is the value we bring in being able to generate antibodies, and to do it in a rapid manner,” AnaptysBio CEO Hamza Suria told me by telephone. The company’s platform for generating antibodies, known as SHM-XEL, also has the capability to produce super-charged antibodies that not only bind to a target but activate functions—to boost the immune system or to dampen the immune response.
In addition, Suria said AnaptysBio can generate antibodies that bind in multiple places, as well as antibody drug conjugates capable of carrying a compound, such as an anti-cancer drug, which are absorbed into a cell after binding.
In its statement today, AnaptysBio says its contract to supply anti-ricin antibodies grew out of its successful completion of multiple biodefense-related antibody programs with DARPA.