HONG KONG - South Korean biopharmaceutical company Ph Pharma Co. Ltd., based in Seoul, and U.S. biotech Immunome Inc., of Exton, Pa., are working together on antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) in a partnership agreement under which Immunome will discover antibodies using its platform while Ph Pharma will develop the ADC candidates and verify safety and efficacy. The Korean firm will have priority rights to develop and commercialize the first development candidate from the partnership.

Beyond that, the agreement is set up so that the company that develops and commercializes the candidates will pay development, regulatory and commercial milestones to the other company worth up to $100 million for each product, with the potential for multiple candidates to be developed and commercialized. Also, royalties on net sales will be paid to the party that does not have commercial rights. Each company will take half of any revenue from sublicensing to a third party.

“Through the partnership, Ph Pharma and Immunome will secure ADC toxins and antibody technology,” Ph Pharma CEO Jae-sik Kim told BioWorld. “We will also discover ADC candidates by a nonexclusive approach to each other’s company technology. If either … company licenses in the discovered candidates, that company will have the exclusive rights to develop and commercialize those candidates.”

“By combining Immunome’s ability to simultaneously identify novel targets and first-in-class human antibodies that work against them, and with Ph Pharma’s capabilities in toxin payloads, there is tremendous potential to yield truly new and highly differentiated ADCs,” said Purnanand Sarma, CEO of Immunome.

The collaboration will use the toxins from Ph Pharma’s research platform, Torpedo, which is focused on novel anticancer toxins that are used as payloads for ADCs. Using that system, Ph Pharma develops multiple anticancer toxin categories that have unique mechanisms of action and are poised to improve the therapeutic index of existing toxins.

Established in 2006, Immunome develops first-in-class cancer therapies by unlocking the tumor-educated B-cell response from patients. Its discovery platform identifies antibody-target pairs by interrogating the patient response with unparalleled depth, breadth and speed, the company said. Using the source of antibody-target pairs, the platform engine is designed to develop new cancer therapies.

Specifically, the process begins with patients who have cancer-educated immune systems, particularly those who have had a robust response to a checkpoint inhibitor. Then the platform generates libraries of hybridomas, utilizes high-content screening approaches and identifies targets for the most important antibodies, before finally engineering drug-like qualities into the drug candidates.

Immunome’s platform has six antibodies, four of which are in preclinical studies. The U.S. company raised a total of $10.2 million in a 2016 series A preferred stock investment, with an additional $2 million funding in 2017.

Founded in 2015, Ph Pharma focuses on developing drugs for unmet clinical needs. Its lead candidate, PHP-201, is a Rho kinase inhibitor (ROCK inhibitor) for the treatment of normal tension glaucoma (NTG). The candidate aims to minimize systemic exposure and topical side effects that are commonly seen with ROCK inhibitors, prostaglandins and other glaucoma drugs. The candidate was originally licensed in from Belgian pharmaceutical company Amakem NV, based in Diepenbeek, in 2016.

According to Ph Pharma, PHP-201 is in the last stage of out-licensing to a Chinese medical company for its global trial phase III. The Korean company expects the contract deal to be completed by the end of this year.

PHP-303, another candidate in phase I testing in the U.S., is a neutrophil elastase inhibitor for the treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). PHP-303 inhibits neutrophil elastase, a major inflammatory factor involved in the progression of NASH, improving insulin resistance and inflammatory responses. The treatment also targets genetic diseases.

PHP-303 was licensed from Bayer AG, of Leverkusen, Germany, in 2017. Before the acquisition, the German company conducted clinical studies on bronchiectasis, in which human safety and efficacy against neutrophil elastase was proved.

Seok-won Yoon, CEO of investment fintech platform Kyperion Co. Ltd. in Seoul, said Ph Pharma’s first-in-licensing planning and strategy is competitive in globalizing the Korean pharmaceutical industry.

“Unlike many biopharmaceutical companies in Korea, Ph Pharma has introduced technologies and talents from the U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies. This inbound business model is very progressive compared [to] outbound ones, which are common in Korea’s bio industry. The company’s management has a great in-sourcing capability,” Yoon told BioWorld.

“Ph Pharma’s business structure is effective in creating rapid growth. Once the company licenses in the therapeutic candidates, and the R&D is combined with Korea’s professionals, network and capital, then the candidates will be licensed out for global development,” Yoon added.

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