BioWorld International Correspondent

Affitech AS and NatImmune A/S entered an alliance based around the development of antibody therapeutics and diagnostics for treatment and detection of colon cancer and other adenocarcinomas. Terms were not disclosed, but the companies will share development costs and revenues.

Oslo, Norway-based Affitech will create a panel of antibody leads against a proprietary target held by NatImmune, of Copenhagen, Denmark. The target, a 43-KDa cytokeratin-like protein, is expressed selectively by primary and metastatic tumor tissue in patients with adenocarcinomas of colon, lung, breast and ovary origin. "It is a nonlinear, complex epitope, which is revealed only after carcinogenesis by enzymatic cleavage of a cytokeratin complex," NatImmune CEO Per Fischer told BioWorld International.

The target has a development history stretching back to the late 1980s. A Danish pharmaceutical firm, GEA, had developed an IgM monoclonal antibody, COU-1, to the target for immunodiagnostic purposes, and had obtained promising data from a Phase I/II clinical trial. Not long afterward, however, it was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York, which then pulled out of antibody-related R&D.

Patent rights then reverted to the inventors at Odense University in Denmark, who licensed the intellectual property to NatImmune. "We are primarily focused on innate immunity in our internal projects," Fischer said. Hence the need for a partner with antibody expertise. The aim of the current project is to generate antibodies with a superior performance to that of COU-1.

"It had good specificity, but not sufficient affinity," Affitech CEO Ole Marvik told BioWorld International.

Affitech, said Chief Operating Officer Martin Welschof, will deploy its human antibody libraries and a variety of screening platforms in the search for antibodies that bind the target antigen. The company has developed phage display and in vitro covalent antibody display systems that directly couple antibody fragments with the genes that encode them.

The company has several other antibody platform technologies in development, but is prioritizing a number of preclinical development programs. It is collaborating with Nasjonalt Folkehelseinstitutt (the Norwegian Institute of Public Health) in the area of infectious diseases, focused on neutralizing Varicella zoster virus in shingles and on Neisseria meningitidis, the cause of bacterial meningitis. It also has an alliance with Det Norske Radiumhospital (the Norwegian Radium Hospital) in oncology.