BioWorld International Correspondent

Swiss firm Glycart Biotechnology AG raised CHF18 million (US$13.9 million) in a Series A financing round to fund further development of its preclinical portfolio of modified therapeutic antibodies.

The company was spun out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in 2000 to commercialize a method for altering the glycosylation pattern of therapeutic antibodies that appears to make them more effective at killing target cells.

The Zug, Switzerland, office of Global Life Sciences Ventures led the funding round, which included Gilde Investment Management, DVC Deutsche Venture Capital, ABN AMRO Capital, Quester Capital Management, BioMedinvest and the Novartis Venture Fund. Schlieren-based Glycart now has raised total funding of CHF23 million, including seed financing and a loan, which has been converted to equity, CEO and co-founder Joël Jean-Mairet told BioWorld International.

"We have a strong focus now on product development," he said. The company is involved in five programs, which are at various stages of preclinical development. Two are being undertaken by external parties, but Glycart has the potential to in-license them, Jean-Mairet said. The other three concern public domain antibodies, which have been modified with the GlycoMAb technology. "Our technology works for targeted cell killing, not for blocking," he said.

The relevant antibody-producing cell line is engineered to express a gene encoding a glycosyltransferase enzyme, which catalyzes the formation of bisected nonfucoslyated oligosaccharides attached to the Fc constant region of the antibody. The modified antibodies display improved antibody-dependent, cell-mediated cytotoxicity properties, Jean-Mairet said, as they are more effective at recruiting immune effectors, such as natural killer cells, whose receptors bind the Fc domain of the antibody.

In standard assays, the company has boosted the potency of existing antibodies up to a thousandfold. "We have done this with very, very well known commercial antibodies," Jean-Mairet said. The company plans to outlicense the technology to third parties, as well as to use it on internal programs in cancer - its primary initial focus - and in autoimmune diseases. The GlycoMAb technology, he said, could be used to improve the efficacy of products that previously failed in clinical trials and to extend the patent life of existing therapeutic antibodies. It also could have a positive impact on the economics of antibody production, as, potentially, GlycoMAb-based antibodies could provide the same levels of efficacy at much lower doses than existing therapeutics.

The latest cash injection will fund the company's activities for two to two and a half years, Jean-Mairet said. It expects to obtain clinical validation in humans during the second half of next year, he said, as part of a collaboration with an unnamed academic institution. The company is a past winner of the W.A. De Vigier prize, Switzerland's most prestigious innovation award.