BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Domantis Ltd. received a $4.25 million milestone payment from Peptech Ltd. as its lead compound, an anti-TNF alpha domain antibody (dAb) being co-developed with the Australian company, entered preclinical development.

At the same time Cambridge-based Domantis took a further $750,000 from its venture capital backer, MVM Ltd., of London.

The $5 million is the final payment in a $20 million agreement concluded in April 2001, and is being paid two months early. Domantis CEO Bob Connelly told BioWorld International, "This is very much an endorsement of our technology and highlights our rapid progress in developing dAbs against therapeutically relevant targets."

Domantis completed lead generation and optimization of the anti-TNF dAb in less than 11 months.

"This emphasizes the efficiency of our in-house drug discovery pipeline, which can produce dAb leads in weeks, optimize them in months and progress them into preclinical studies in less than a year," Connelly said.

Domantis has indeed made fast progress since it was spun out of the UK Medical Research Council's (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge just over two years ago. The company also has 12 in-house programs in cancer and inflammation and Connelly said he expects several of those to enter preclinical testing later this year. In addition, Domantis has a collaboration with Abbott Laboratories, giving the pharmaceutical company access to its fully human dAb libraries.

The deal with Peptech, of Sydney, Australia, was entered four months after Domantis was formed and involved R&D payments of $10 million and a $7 million equity investment. Along with $3 million from MVM, the venture capital arm of the MRC, it enabled Domantis to hit the ground running. Connelly estimated not having to do the rounds raising venture capital gained the company one to two years.

The latest payment leaves Domantis with $13 million in cash, enough to last two years. However, Connelly said he is now embarking on the next funding round, aiming to raise around $20 million. He also expects to do further deals. Under the agreement with Peptech there was an option to develop dAbs to three other targets and that has now been activated.

Stephen Kwik, CEO of Peptech, said dAbs represent a completely novel approach to TNF, a target relevant to a number of serious diseases. "Since Peptech became a shareholder of Domantis the company has consistently met or surpassed its scientific milestones," he said.

Domantis was co-founded by Greg Winter, also a founder of Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc, and has sole rights to one element of the Winter II antibody patents covering single domain antibodies. They are the smallest functional binding units of human antibodies.

At less than 10 percent of the size of conventional antibodies, dAbs were previously considered too difficult to work with. However, with the technical difficulties of handling them now overcome, Domantis says dAbs combine the best qualities of antibodies and small molecules. They have the ability to bind to standard antibody targets and also to targets where the binding site is in a cavity, for example, in enzyme active sites. The small size should allow for better tissue penetration, providing greater therapeutic effect. DAbs also will be cheaper to manufacture than standard-sized antibodies, and can be modified for alternative routes of delivery.

As well as exclusive rights to human dAbs, Domantis also has access to further technical developments by Winter's research team.