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Invenra Partners With U.K. Company to Research Therapeutic Antibodies

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Invenra, one of the few companies working on new ways to make therapeutic monoclonal antibodies using cell-free protein expression, today announced a partnership with U.K.-based Oxford BioTherapeutics aimed at commercializing a new cancer treatment.

Madison, WI-based Invenra is one of the companies offering a way to make antibodies without using genetically modified cells such as E. coli or Chinese hamster ovary cells as the factories—a departure from the current standard. South San Francisco, CA-based Sutro Biopharma is another company working on similar technology.

The Oxford deal is an important step for Invenra, a lean 12-employee outfit that has raised a shade over $6 million from investors since it was founded in 2011. Although Invenra could develop therapeutics in-house, it has focused on being a service company that helps drug makers find therapeutic antibodies. Oxford marks Invenra’s first customer, CEO Roland Green says.

“It’s the period where the company goes from being just R&D to we’re a commercial operation now, with revenue coming up and real customers,” Green says. “It feels great.”

Oxford, which has a U.S. office in San Jose, CA, is developing antibody drug conjugates to treat cancer, both through in-house research and development and in partnership with pharma companies like Seattle Genetics, ImmunoGen, and Amgen. None of the products in Oxford’s pipeline have advanced past a Phase 1 clinical trial, according to its website.

Oxford’s cancer target discovery platform uses one of the world’s largest proprietary databases of cancer cell membrane proteins, with more than 5,000 in the system, the company says. That theoretically should help improve its odds of finding cancer targets with the best antibody drug conjugate activity.

An important part of finding antibodies for therapeutic use is testing batches of them to find the few that have the best drug-like properties against the cancer target. That’s where Invenra comes in. Oxford has tapped Invenra to develop a panel of fully human therapeutic monoclonal antibodies that will be used against a novel cancer target identified by Oxford.

Once the full antibodies have been expressed, Invenra’s system can test much larger batches—hundreds of thousands—of them at a time “in very small wells” at much lower costs, Green has said. They can test for target affinity or other characteristics, such as the ability to withstand higher temperatures, which is important because protein structures can change and lose their drug-like properties.

The two sides are being tight-lipped about most of the deal’s details, including payment size and specifics about the cancer target. But under the agreement, Oxford will make an initial payment to Invenra after it delivers a panel of monoclonal antibodies that meet agreed-upon design goals and specifications.

After that, the baton is passed to Oxford, which will be responsible for all further development of the therapeutic product candidates. Assuming Oxford successfully commercializes any products developed through the agreement, Invenra could receive additional milestone payments and royalties on net sales. Oxford will also have the option of developing diagnostic products based on the technology, and it will own the rights to those products.

“This collaboration leverages the complementary expertise of our two companies in identifying optimal [monoclonal antibodies] against targets differentially expressed in cancer,” Oxford chief scientific officer Keith Wilson says in a press release.

Invenra is negotiating with more potential partners, Green says. “We’re looking at hiring another five people as soon as possible because we have a lot of pending contracts. The demand has exceeded our expectations.”