HONG KONG – Singapore-based Proteona Pte. Ltd. has formed a couple of significant partnerships recently, including a Germany-Singapore partnership to develop a drug screening and discovery platform using single cell multi-omics analysis for patient-derived micro-tumors, and an international alliance to develop antibodies against coronaviruses.

The former sees Proteona partner with drug discovery firm Synovo GmbH, and the NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

“Patient-derived organoids simulating a tumor and its microenvironment are treated with drugs compounds, and then analyzed with Proteona's single-cell ESCAPE platform,” Andreas Schmidt, CEO of Proteona, told BioWorld.

The response of single cells of different cell types to the treatment are measured and analyzed using AI-assisted algorithm. The data are then compiled to provide information to assist in selecting the best drug candidate.

Andreas Schmidt, CEO, Proteona

“In this way, by only using a small amount of cells, we can obtain comprehensive data on the drug response from heterogeneous cell populations, especially the immune component, which can play an important role,” said Schmidt.

“A small subset of cells can lead to disease relapse or treatment failure,” he added. “This tiny signal, often overlooked in bulk analysis, will be accurately captured with Proteona’s single cell multi-omics platform.”

By combining it with the patient-derived micro-tumor technology, the partners hope to offer a powerful tool for both individual patient treatment selection and also for drug discovery and new cancer therapy development.

Schmidt said he expects the full wet lab to data analysis service to be available within two years or earlier. He added that it’s possible this service could be transferred to many other therapy development projects that are based on micro-tumors or organoids.

The partners expect to have identified drug candidates in the same time frame. Schmidt confirmed that the platform will be applicable for both liquid and solid tumors.

The project’s funding comes jointly from government statutory board Enterprise Singapore and the central innovation program Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand initiated by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. However, further financial information regarding the partnership agreement was not revealed.

“Proteona is currently providing premium CRO services using its ESCAPE analysis platform. We are also working closely with clinicians and we can already see the clinical impact of our work,” said Schmidt. “In the near future, Proteona would like to play its part in addressing the most urgent current issue.”

Joining the COVID-19 fight

Taking on that urgent effort, Proteona disclosed on March 25 another deal in which it will now be part of an international alliance to develop broadly neutralizing antibodies against coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The antibodies developed through that alliance will be aimed at providing protection to immune-compromised individuals who have an elevated risk of infection and mortality.

Besides Proteona, other partners in the alliance include the University Clinic of Heidelberg, Tübingen University Hospital, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the NMI Natural and Medical Sciences Institute, NUS Enterprise and 10x Genomics.

For its part, Proteona will be contributing its expertise in single-cell immune profiling to identify potential targets for the coalition of organizations.

“The advantage of performing single-cell screening is that we can be comprehensive and accurate at the same time,” Schmidt said. “We obtain a complete overview of the B-cell populations from many different individuals so that we do not miss out any potential candidates. Then, we can look into any B-cell clone and test its efficacy and specificity.

“In this way, we aim to come up with a treatment solution that targets a broad spectrum of coronavirus and is both safe and effective.”

According to Schmidt, the company will work closely with clinicians treating blood cancer patients in particular.

“These individuals are especially at risk due to weakened defense systems and existing co-morbidities,” he added. “There are currently no drugs available for treating coronaviruses.” And the vaccines that are in development are not suitable for immunocompromised individuals, such as those with cancer. Their immune systems are not capable of forming the necessary protective response.

“For immune-compromised individuals, such as those with multiple myeloma, vaccination can be a challenge,” said Hartmut Goldschmidt, professor of medicine and head of the multiple myeloma program at Heidelberg University Hospital. “Strategies for additional protections for these patients are very important.”

Therefore, alternative treatments such as neutralizing antibodies are needed.

At the moment, Proteona is also on the lookout for additional partners to help it combat the COVID-19 pandemic. It is offering its ESCAPE single-cell proteogenomics platform and bioinformatics capabilities.