Invetx brings together pool of partners to launch monoclonal antibody platform

15:30 PM | August 4, 2020 | Joseph Harvey

US animal health therapeutics specialist Invetx has partnered with Twist Bioscience – a synthetic biology and genomics company.

Boston, Massachusetts-headquartered Invetx is building a biotechnology platform for protein-based veterinary therapeutics, including a "new standard of monoclonal antibodies". It will work with Twist – based in South San Francisco, California – to engineer and optimize antibodies for the treatment of serious diseases in dogs and cats.

The core of Twist's platform is a high-throughput silicon technology that pioneers a new method of manufacturing synthetic DNA. Its technology has increased the throughput of synthesizing DNA by a factor of 1,000 and enables the synthesis of 9,600 genes on a single silicon chip.

The Invetx platform also includes monoclonal antibody drug lead generation from Canadian partner AbCellera, as well as development and manufacturing technology from Wuxi Biologics in Hong Kong.

Juergen Horn – chief executive of Invetx – stated: "Many diseases in animals manifest through the same protein targets observed in humans. By partnering with Twist to create specific antibody libraries for veterinary species, along with our existing platform partners, we are expanding Invetx's ability to deliver best-in-class antibody therapeutics and translate biotechnology approaches already proven successful in the human field to veterinary medicine."

Invetx is aiming to produce a range of species-specific, optimized and half-life-extended monoclonal antibodies. The company claims to have "already built a robust pipeline of biotherapeutic programs from its platform" and expects to begin pilot studies for its first candidates in 2020.

The firm has six active R&D programs – indications have not yet been disclosed. Three of these candidates have completed the discovery stage and are now in the optimization phase. Invetx hopes to attain its first US FDA approval by 2025.

In February, Invetx picked up $15 million through a series A financing round. It also struck strategic partnerships with AbCellera for monoclonal antibody drug lead generation, as well as WuXi Biologics for antibody development and manufacturing technology.

Dr Horn told IHS Markit Animal Health all the firm’s partners complement each other with technologies deemed “best-in-class” even in the human health sector.

He remarked: “The uniqueness here is the combination of individual technologies into one platform that delivers specifications for antibodies we believe are the new standard for veterinary medicine.

"In animal health, it can be hard to find a single partner or contract manufacturing organization that can develop a product and bring it to market. This requires manufacturing capabilities. For biotherapeutics, it has proven very difficult in the past to find high-quality manufacturers at an affordable price. With WuXi, we found a strong partner that has an interest in animal health and advanced technologies for the development and manufacturing of biotherapeutics.

"I think many standard monoclonal antibody technologies have become somewhat of a commodity. You have a number of contract research organizations that can cheaply generate an antibody. That's not necessarily of much use. You may be able to get such a product to market but most likely not a very high quality or differentiated product."

Invetx claims its platform can develop monoclonal antibodies across a wide range of indications and targets. This includes "challenging targets for drug discovery such as G-protein-coupled receptors, which account for a significant number of approved drugs in humans and are also relevant in veterinary medicine".

Invetx is initially focused on diseases in dogs and cats but is planning to apply its platform to indications in other species. While it currently has all the partnerships in place to develop optimized monoclonal antibodies, its broader purview is protein-based therapeutics and it is exploring additional technologies in this area.

Dr Horn said Invetx's strategy is to discover new monoclonal antibodies for animal health, rather than taking existing ones and just 'caninizing' or 'felinizing' them. The company aims to discover its own range of optimized antibodies against a range of targets.

"Our vision is to bring next generation veterinary therapeutics to the market that address unmet needs with superior product profiles at affordable prices," Dr Horn said. "Additionally, Invetx's proprietary half-life extension technology will allow for significantly longer dosing intervals, making long-term treatments far more convenient for owners and their pets while helping to improve compliance."

From big pharma to start-up

Dr Horn’s background includes senior roles at multiple styles of animal health company – from the multinational set-ups of Novartis Animal Health and Elanco to the start-up environment of Nexvet Biopharma.

"I have quite a long history in sourcing new leads for animal health, starting with my time at Novartis," Dr Horn told IHS Markit Animal Health. "I looked for new leads in the biotech world. This was around the time the idea for monoclonal antibodies and biotherapeutics for animals really started. At that time, it was prohibitively expensive and the technology wasn't really accessible. The starting point for this actually goes way back.

"I was always puzzled by the innovation gap between human medicine and veterinary medicine. I understand animal health might not be at the forefront of new technologies but do we really need to be 25 years behind? I always thought we could follow a bit faster. Luckily, this is changing now with more start-up companies picking up new technologies.

"We are one of the companies that are trying to be just behind the latest wave of human biomedical innovation. Once these technologies are validated, available and affordable, then we can actually see what makes sense to transfer over to animal health. Not everything makes sense but many things do."

Dr Horn said it is hard to fully replicate the exact expertise that exists on the human biotech side on a small scale in animal health. Rather than trying to copy the human biopharma model, Invetx is taking a different approach by finding partners and using the companies that actually discovered the technology to work in collaboration.

Chance to build wider market

Dr Horn noted many indications in companion animals are underserved – providing opportunities for start-ups like Invetx.

"Some markets seem to be small today but when the right medication comes along, it may actually be a much bigger sector," he pointed out.

"We've seen that with atopic dermatitis. Only 10-15 years ago, the market was probably a third of what it is today and the right drugs have come along and tripled the market. I think that path will occur for other indications.
”Biotherapeutics offer an opportunity to address some unmet needs and, at the same time, address the concerns of vets and pet owners about dosing and compliance.

"Some people say there are only 10 targets on the veterinary side that make sense. I don't agree with that. The same was said about human medicine about 20 years ago. Now there are so many monoclonal antibodies in human medicine on the market and in development with no end in sight."

While Zoetis' Cytopoint is the only approved monoclonal antibody in animal health, there are numerous businesses working in this area of veterinary medicine now. Dr Horn said the success of Cytopoint "will trigger a revolution in animal health biotech", with more products in this category due to hit commercialization soon.

However, Dr Horn welcomes increased competition in the veterinary biotherapeutics space.

"We do set ourselves apart with our business model and the platform we now have," he said. "We truly believe we will set a new standard for monoclonal antibodies. There is competition but competition also builds the market and it brings attention to biotherapeutics in animal health. That's uplifting for us. It brings the market dynamic and makes investors more interested."

"You need good science but that alone is not enough," he stated. "You need good science, a highly competent team and credible partners. That refers to scientific partners and the investment partners. It can be a chain effect. If you have one credible partner, you get a second one and it goes from there."

Dr Horn said companies also need to have a vision of how to get their products to the market. He commented: “Commercialization will be a big undertaking for a small company. The market is dominated by a handful of big companies. That obviously puts up an entrance hurdle. So, we need to find a smart way to do that.”

Dr Horn emphasized it is too early to provide specific details on Invetx’s commercialization tactics.