Merck strengthens antibody development with Zymeworks tech

18:50 PM | July 13, 2020 | Sian Lazell

Merck Animal Health has agreed a new deal with Zymeworks to develop multi-specific antibody therapeutic candidates.

Zymeworks is a clinical-stage biotechnology company headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, focused on the development of multifunctional biotherapeutics for animal and human health.

Under the agreement, Merck will be able to develop new animal health candidates using Zymeworks’ Azymetric and EFECT discovery platforms.

The global license grants Merck the rights to research, develop, and commercialize up to three new multi-specific antibodies in exchange for milestone payments and tiered royalties. Zymeworks will receive an undisclosed upfront payment under the deal.

The Azymetric platform enables the transformation of mono-specific antibodies into bi-specific and multi-specific antibodies. This enables them to bind to several different disease targets. Zymeworks explained the technology facilitates the development of multi-functional therapeutics that can block multiple signaling pathways, recruit immune cells to tumors, enhance receptor clustering and internalization, and increase tumor-specific targeting.

It said: "These features are designed to enhance efficacy while reducing toxicities and the potential for drug resistance. Azymetric therapeutics have been engineered to retain the desirable drug-like qualities of naturally occurring antibodies, including low immunogenicity, long half-life and high stability. In addition, they are compatible with standard manufacturing processes that deliver high yields and purity, potentially reducing drug development costs and timelines."

The EFECT platform is a library of antibody Fc modifications engineered to activate or suppress the antibody-mediated immune response. This platform is compatible with traditional monoclonal antibodies and Azymetric bi-specific antibodies. It is designed to advance the customization and optimization of therapeutic responses for different diseases.

The deal marks the first collaboration between Merck's animal health arm and Zymeworks.

The new license also allows Merck’s human health division to develop up to three new multi-specific antibodies toward therapeutic targets in people, using the Azymetric and EFECT platforms.

The wider Merck corporation began working with Zymeworks in 2011 to develop bi-specific antibodies. This collaboration was expanded in 2014. The new license has no effect on the original agreement.

Industry leader Zoetis also recently signed a deal in the antibody development space. The firm's partnership with San Francisco-based Trianni covers the development of transgenic monoclonal antibody platforms for the discovery of new veterinary treatments.