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Kymab Ramps Up Efforts for Antibody Partnerships, R&D

By Nuala Moran
Staff Writer

LONDON – Kymab Ltd. called up two industry veterans to help with the commercialization of its new platform technology for generating monoclonal antibodies in transgenic mice, as it prepares both to out-license access to the technology and use it to start an internal drug discovery effort.

David Chiswell, co-founder and former CEO of Cambridge Antibody Therapeutics plc, and Christian Itin, CEO of Cytos Biotechnology and former CEO of Micromet until its $1.2 billion cash acquisition by Amgen Inc. in March, are joining Kymab's board following the launch last month of Kymouse HK, a transgenic mouse that can generate fully human antibodies.

Kymouse represents a significant advance over existing commercial mouse strains currently used by industry, according to Tom Shepherd, chief business officer. "Pharma companies have found that discovering the perfect monoclonal antibody is a pretty rare event, and most have to use multiple discovery platforms," he told BioWorld International.

There are a number of technologies for generating monoclonal antibodies in transgenic mice. However, those are limited both in their human immunoglobulin repertoire and in their availability for use by the industry at large. "Now the first Kymouse strain is available, we want to use it internally in our own drug discovery. But it is also very much the start of wanting to partner as broadly as we can with pharma," Shepherd said.

He noted that mouse antibody platforms have, to date, been far more productive than in vitro antibody generation technologies, with seven of the nine approved monoclonals originating from transgenic mice.

The partnering will not involve fee for service, but will be done as flexible, long-term licenses, allowing companies to take Kymouse HK, and other strains that Kymab intends to develop, into their own laboratories.

In parallel with the push to sign up the first licensees, Kymab is establishing an in-house discovery team, including recruits from GlaxoSmithKline plc and Pfizer Inc., and has started its first program. "All the engineering is contained within the mouse, which is able to optimize the antibodies, so we only need a small discovery infrastructure," Shepherd said.

The company is collaborating with academics in the selection and validation of targets with the objective of identifying targets in disease areas where there are no treatments currently and where antibodies offer therapeutic utility. In particular, Kymouse is able to generate human antibodies that humans themselves cannot. That means it is possible to generate antibodies to human proteins, which Shepherd said could open up new avenues to treating autoimmune diseases.

"The plan is to generate lots of antibodies to a wide range of targets. Some would be out-licensed early; others would be taken to proof of concept," Shepherd said.

Kymab was spun out of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, by genome engineering expert Allan Bradley, now the firm's chief scientific officer. He developed a technique for introducing human DNA into mouse embryonic stem cells without the stem cells losing their pluripotency. The modified cells then are used to generate mice through cell nuclear transfer. Bradley noted that as the first commercial strain produced via that method, Kymouse HK has a normal B-cell compartment, produces high antibody titres of all isotypes in response to antigen challenge and affinity matures antibodies in vivo.

Kymab said it expects it will soon have revenues from licensing deals and also is planning a Series B fundraising next year. To date, the company has been funded solely by the Wellcome Trust, which invested $30 million in the first round of funding in July 2010. Shepherd said Wellcome will be a key player in the next round, and Richard Davis, manager of the Wellcome's health care investments, is becoming a nonexecutive directer of Kymab along with Chiswell and Itin.

Andy Sandham, CEO, said the appointments strengthen capabilities as the company moves to commercialize the Kymouse platform. "Christian and David have a successful track record in building companies based on world-class technology. Richard's appointment reflects our strategy for future equity financing involving the Wellcome Trust and other strategic health care investors," Sandham said.