BioWorld International Correspondent

IQ Corp. entered a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center to develop antibody-based therapeutics against anthrax, botulism and, potentially, other bioterrorist threats.

IQC focuses on neutralizing bacterial toxins in infected individuals, rather than on eliminating or preventing bacterial infection with antibiotics or mass vaccination programs. The company, based in Groningen, the Netherlands, has developed a process for capturing the full complement of neutralizing antibodies expressed in individuals who have been vaccinated against particular infectious agents. It refers to the technique as "cloning the human response," CEO Roland Lageveen told BioWorld International.

The rationale is simple: "The antibodies developing in those people will produce a good protection." IQC has devised a method for selecting those antibodies that appear to offer the best protective effect. It also has developed an undisclosed proprietary technique for immortalizing the B cells that produce those antibodies.

Its anthrax project is the most advanced. The company has developed a panel of monoclonal antibodies, named Anthraxumab, that primarily target the protective antigen (PA) component of the tripartite Bacillus anthracis toxin. PA monomers assemble into a haptomeric channel that spans the cell membrane and enables another component of the toxin, lethal factor, to enter the cell and exert its destructive effect.

Anthraxumab already has been tested in animal models. Further animal testing is planned, Lageveen said, while the company also is commencing a search for a manufacturing partner. Human dosing could begin by the end of the year or by early next year, he said. Because of the impossibility of conducting clinical trials on patients, the FDA places more emphasis on animal work in biodefense projects, Lageveen said, while it also requires extensive Phase I studies in healthy volunteers.

The botulism therapeutic could be ready for administration in humans by 2006. Other potential projects that would come under the framework of the CRADA have yet to be agreed to with the Silver Spring, Md.-based NMRC. The company also has two other internal therapeutic antibody development projects targeting common human bacterial pathogens.

IQC, which was founded by University of Groningen scientists Sibrand Poppema and Lou de Leij, has its roots in an earlier venture, MCA Development, which had provided monoclonal antibody development services to third parties. It took on its present guise in 1999, when it reorganized in order to pursue its own product development programs. It has two divisions, IQ Products, a diagnostics company with two marketed products, and IQ Therapeutics, which is focused on the therapeutic antibody development.

Those entities will be spun off as two independent companies over the summer, Lageveen said. "Since strategies, cash needs and opportunities are different, we recognize in the future that shareholdings [in each business] might change." The company has so far raised just seed levels of finance, he said, but with revenues from its diagnostics business beginning to flow and funding from the CRADA projects about to come on stream, the company has no immediate requirement for new financing, he said.