Life Sciences

Avacta Group: in the forefront in the fight against coronavirus

Novel cancer immunotherapies specialist Avacta Group has joined the fight against coronavirus by developing a rapid antigen test for the SARS-COV-2 spike protein in collaboration with Cytvia. In the meantime, the company continues to progress its anti-cancer drug candidates through preclinical development and into the clinic.

Avacta Group is a Cambridge, UK-based company developing novel cancer immunotherapies by combining two proprietary platforms, Affimer biotherapeutics and tumour targeted chemotherapies. With this approach, the company
aims to address the lack of a durable response to current immunotherapies experienced
by most patients and in the near term is supporting this research from revenues generated by developing Affimer reagents for diagnostics, bioprocessing and research at a separate business unit based in Wetherby, UK.

Alternative to antibodies

The Affimer platform is an alternative to antibodies and has been designed to address many of the negative performance issues of antibodies, principally: the time taken, and the reliance on an animal’s immune response, to generate new antibodies;
poor specificity in many cases; large size; and cost. The company’s other technology platform, its proprietary targeted chemotherapy approach, releases active drug only in the tumour, thereby limiting systemic exposure and improving the overall safety and therapeutic potential of these powerful anti-cancer treatments. By combining the two platforms, Avacta is building a wholly
owned pipeline of novel cancer therapies with the aim of creating effective treatments for all
cancer patients including those who do not respond to existing immunotherapies. The company expects to take its first drug, a targeted form of the standard-of- care Doxorubicin, into the clinic shortly (mid-2020) and to follow on with an IND/CTA submission for the first Affimer programme, a PD-L1 antagonist, in Q4 2020.

Coronavirus: developing a

rapid antigen test

Avacta is also very active in fight against coronavirus/COVID-19 disease through its rapid antigen test development partnership with Cytvia (formerly GE Healthcare Life Sciences) and recently announced positive initial data

for the first Affimer-based rapid test strips for the SARS-COV-2 (coronavirus/COVID-19 disease) spike protein.

In mid-May, Avacta provided Affimer reagents that are specific to the SARS-COV-2 spike
protein to Cytiva which has now developed the first lateral flow test strips using these reagents. The data show that the test strips detect the spike protein in model samples at concentrations within the clinical range found in saliva of patients with COVID-19 and work is now continuing on refining the test strip design, optimizing its performance, and establishing the best detection limit possible in order to generate the highest sensitivity in the final rapid test product.

Following the optimization of the lateral flow test by Cytiva, the design will then be transferred  to manufacturing partners in the UK. These manufacturers are currently being selected by Avacta and are working with the company to compress manufacturing, clinical validation and regulatory timelines in order to bring a product to market as quickly as possible.

Dr. Alastair Smith, Chief Executive of Avacta Group, commented: “I am delighted with the progress made by our partners at Cytiva and very encouraged by the positive data from the first test devices. We now need to optimize the test performance to achieve the best possible limit of detection as this will ultimately play a significant factor in determining the clinical sensitivity of the test.

“This is a really positive step and we aim to have completed the optimization very soon so that we can begin the transfer to manufacturers. I will be updating the market on progress in due course.”

New cell and gene therapies

In a completely separate development, Avacta and Daewoong recently put in place
a collaboration and licence agreement with their joint venture company AffyXell Therapeutics to develop Affimer proteins to be used by AffyXell for the generation of new cell and gene therapies. Avacta and AffyXell are now working together on developing Affimer proteins against a range of targets which, when produced by mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), are intended to inhibit inflammatory and autoimmune pathways and improve the overall efficacy of MSCs, creating a next generation of stem cell therapies. The initial focus for AffyXell will be on inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, while in the longer term there is potential for AffyXell to address oncology uses for these Affimer-enabled cell and gene therapies.

Under the terms of the collaboration and licence agreement, Avacta’s research and development costs associated with generation of the Affimer proteins will be funded by AffyXell. In addition, Avacta will retain the rights to commercialize the Affimer proteins outside of the field of cell therapies.

Dr Smith commented: “The potential for AffyXell’s new class of cell therapies, which can
be applied to a wide range of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, is enormous. We are therefore very excited by the opportunity to be part of this new venture and to demonstrate the power of Affimer proteins in the field of engineered cell therapies.

“Our objective is for these cell therapies to finally fully address diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases and multiple sclerosis, as well as other autoimmune diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” he continued. “From a commercial perspective, the global stem cell market is expected to be worth $16 billion by 2025. AffyXell has a unique opportunity to combine two world-class technologies, Avacta’s Affimer antibody mimetic platform and Daewoong’s proprietary technology for generating ‘off-the-shelf’ allogeneic MSC therapies to create the next generation of stem cell therapies. We believe that this has the potential to create substantial value for stakeholders in the near future.”

Further information Avacta Group Whittlesford Cambridge, UK