HONG KONG – Singaporean biotech startup Dotbio Pte. Ltd. launched this week with seed capital of $2.3 million. The new player on the biotech scene is focused on the development of immuno-oncology drugs based on humanized domain antibodies.

The independent biotechnology company was spun out from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and was incorporated in the Southeast Asian city state last June. The seed financing was led by the Heungkong Group via Futec Biomedical Investments Ltd.

Dotbio aims to develop a broad pipeline of drug candidates for new oncology treatments based on its Dotbody technology.

"The domain therapeutic antibody [Dotbody] technology was developed by Dotbio using our Cofi and Hot Cofi screening technologies," Ignacio Asial, founder and CEO of Dotbio, told BioWorld Asia. "The Cofi and Hot Cofi technologies allowed us to generate a very stable, low-aggregation scaffold based on the humanized VH [heavy chain variable] domain of Herceptin."

The Dotbody domain therapeutic antibodies are multispecific, humanized and highly stable.

Dotbio has phage display libraries based on the Dotbody scaffold, from which the therapeutic candidates are isolated.

"These Dotbodies against different therapeutic targets can be easily combined into multispecific formats by simply 'connecting the dots' at the DNA level," said Asial. "This significantly simplifies the process of generating multitargeted therapies, reducing development times and costs."

According to Dotbio, domain antibodies exhibit superior tumor penetration as a result of their small size and can be used as building blocks for multispecific antibodies. Dotbodies are optimized by a proprietary technology that improves antibody stability, reduces aggregation and lowers the risk of immunogenicity – increasing the probability of their success in clinical trials.

"Multispecific domain antibodies offer a more refined means to activate the antitumor immune response and to minimize adverse effects as compared to standard antibody-based combination therapies," said Pär Nordlund, co-founder of Dotbio. Nordlund said he believes the company's domain antibody technology would position it as a leader in next-generation multispecific cancer therapies.

The higher stability and small size of Dotbodies also make them highly modular, allowing rapid optimization of pharmacokinetics, multivalency and multispecificity.

Asial said that Dotbio's pipeline is focused on prevalent cancers with unmet therapeutic needs, such as liver, lung and gastric cancers, among others.

"Our candidates are validated in vitro, and the seed funding obtained will allow us to pursue preclinical validations in animal models," said Asial.

"The potential of domain antibody technology to change the way we treat cancer is clear. Our focus is on applying the world-leading protein science expertise of our team to revolutionize multispecific, CAR T and ADC therapies," he added.

Dotbio's current internal pipeline is focused on multispecific immuno-oncology drugs targeting different checkpoint blockades, positive immune signals and tumor-specific processes, with several candidates planned to enter preclinical studies this year. But the broad applicability of the Dotbody technology could also enable the company to consider other therapeutic areas on a case-by-case basis.

"The Dotbody technology can also be applied to many other therapeutic areas and we look forward to opportunities to collaborate with industry partners and academia to realize the enormous potential of our technology," said Nordlund.

But as a new company that has just launched, Dotbio is focusing its energy on pursuing the preclinical validation of its therapeutic candidates. The company plans to release additional information about those candidates sometime in early 2019.

As part of the spin-out agreement with NTU, Dotbio will acquire the rights to the domain antibody technology through NTUitive, the university's innovation and enterprise company. It will also obtain certain assets developed under a previous collaboration agreement between Aslan Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and NTU.

Dotbio could not offer any further comments on its plans for the assets from Aslan at this stage.

NTU and Aslan will hold minority equity stakes in Dotbio. Kingsley Leung, representing Heungkong Group, and Carl Firth, the CEO of Aslan, will join the board of Dotbio as nonexecutive directors.

Besides the capital injection, Dotbio is also laying the foundations to take its candidates to the next stage through collaborations with NTU and Sweden's Karolinska Institute and other partnerships.

"Dotbio's co-founder, Pär Nordlund, is coordinating our collaborative efforts at NTU and Karolinska Institute, with the aim of understanding better the synergistic effects of our multispecific therapeutic candidates," said Asial.

Asial said that Dotbio would be looking to raise additional funds in 2019 to complete its IND-enabling studies for the most promising drug candidates.

"We are looking at a series A round in the range of $20 million, dependent on the results obtained in 2018 and early 2019," said Asial.