LONDON - Diversys Ltd. has been launched on the back of the famous Winter II antibody library patents, to develop platform technologies in antibody and protein engineering.

The founders, Ian Tomlinson and Greg Winter, of the UK Medical Research Council's (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, have received seed funding from MVM Limited, of London, the venture capital arm of MRC.

In addition to a license to the Winter II technology, which covers the production of large expression libraries of human antibody genes, Diversys has exclusive rights to a number of new MRC patents on antibody libraries and array technologies.

David Brister of MVM, who also is a director of Diversys, told BioWorld International, "The funding will last for 18 months. This will allow the company to get going, recruit a CEO and get some key scientists in place.

"The aim is that Diversys will be a true platform technology company, dealing not only in human therapeutics, but delivering expertise on protein engineering across a range of applications such as diagnostics and bioremediation."

Diversys will not be going into competition with the other holder of a Winter II license, human monoclonal antibody specialist Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc (CAT). CAT has exclusive rights to the patent for all antibody formats apart from single-domain antibodies. For all other areas, the two companies have a co-exclusive license. "CAT is a big company; they don't have to worry about a tiddler like us," said Brister.

CAT has found itself having to defend the Winter II patents strenuously, with infringement proceedings currently in train in the U.S. and Europe, involving MorphoSys AG, of Germany and Crucell NV of the Netherlands.

Brister said Diversys has a very strong intellectual property portfolio, with rights to technologies that already have been proved by CAT, and to novel technologies that need more work.

When CAT took the license it excluded single-domain antibodies, as they were perceived as too difficult to work with. Brister said the technical difficulties of manipulating these fragmentary entities now have been overcome, and Diversys plans to develop them for therapeutic and other applications.

"Single-domain antibodies are not proven to the same extent as other formats," he said. "We will fund further development, and we believe they will have the same utility as other formats."

Diversys plans to develop its platform technologies in partnerships. "We are not talking about straight license deals, but about finding partners to work with, for example in developing protein arrays," Brister said.