NovoBind Livestock Therapeutics believes the concept of nanobodies will start to overtake innovation based on traditional antibodies in the coming years. The Canadian start-up is developing nanobody-based biologics designed to neutralize key pathogens affecting poultry, shrimp and companion animals.
Nanobodies are a new class of therapeutic proteins based on single-domain antibody fragments. They will allow drug developers to rapidly generate biological therapeutics for a wide range of diseases or pathogens. The first nanobody drug approved in the US was Sanofi's Cablivi (caplacizumab) for thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. In fact, NovoBind's nanobody platform is linked to the technology that generated Cablivi.
In 2018, Sanofi purchased Belgian firm Ablynx in a multi-billion-Euro transaction. The patents covering Ablynx's technology have expired, giving NovoBind the opportunity to work on this platform for animal health. Dr Edwin Moses—the former chief executive of Ablynx—is working as an advisor to NovoBind, while the firm's other co-founder Dr Robert Fraser was head of dug development at Sanofi.
Established in 2016, Vancouver-based NovoBind was the brainchild of Hamlet Abnousi – a serial entrepreneur that has sealed several small exits with ventures in the technology sector. The start-up was initially formed to address antimicrobial resistance in food-producing animals. The start-up has evolved into a company with a scalable platform focused on developing new biological anti-infectives.
Mr Abnousi told IHS Markit Animal Health: "We started off smaller than we are today. We started by looking at antibiotics. We went on to realize the opportunity for this platform is much bigger than just antibiotics. Early on, we decided the economic value of anti-infectives resides in the animal health world. We are going to target a subset of pathogens, such as Salmonella, Eimeria, and Clostridium in poultry, and Vibrio and White spot syndrome in shrimp."
NovoBind previously conducted some research work with the National Research Council of Canada and Cargill, which had licenced the right to work with Ablynx's technology in poultry. This research effectively acted as the proof-of-principal for NovoBind's nanobody platform and the in vitro data generated convinced Mr Abnousi to fully establish the firm's laboratory.
”We see our technology as a complementary platform in a chest of tools in the anti-infective world,” Mr Abnousi stated. “We want to work alongside vaccines and probiotics.
”We look at a pathogen, determine what makes it a bad actor and specifically go after its virulence factors. We don’t affect the host. We look at a pathogen and see what the economic issue is to the producer.”
One particular area of focus for the company is gastrointestinal-based pathogens in food animals.
Mr Abnousi explained: "All of our advisor have been telling us food animals have been pressured to grow very fast. To do that, they have to assimilate a great deal of food. Their bodies have grown but essentially the vehicle to assimilate all that food—their gastrointestinal system—hasn't changed. So, there is an immense amount of pressure on the gastrointestinal tract of these animals."
NovoBind will concentrate on developing nanobodies to the point a partner can take on the regulatory and commercial work. The firm secured an R&D collaboration with Lallemand Animal Nutrition in 2019. The agreement aims to scale up production of NovoBind’s Salmonella biologic, as well as conduct in vivo trials.
The pact also saw Lallemand make a strategic minor investment in Novobind. Mr Abnousi said the firm is taking a different approach to the usual financing route.
"We want to work together with partners to get data and move to a commercial conversation later," he stated. "This is what we're doing with Lallemand. No-one is being negatively harmed because we haven't generated any animal data yet. We haven't entered into any clauses that come with a lot of venture deals.
"I really do think the standard venture model is broken. It works for a minority but it crushes a lot of companies. We don't want to play on those odds. We got term sheets for a large amount of money and we chose not to accept them. For us to work well, we need to adopt a different model for a higher chance of success.
"We want to bring in investors that are aligned to being founders at an early stage—not as venture capitals folks looking to make a really great deal. We still want them to make that great deal but we want to arm ourselves with a stage-appropriate ecosystem. Down the line, we will look for more funding but only when it's needed."
Another of NovoBind’s investors is Seventure, which participated in the firm’s oversubscribed series A round earlier this year. Seventure previously invested in argenx—another human biotechnology business focused on developing nanobodies.
The next steps for NovoBind is to secure efficacy trial data. Mr Abnousi said the company should generate its first data “within the next 12 months.”
In a perfect world, NovoBind aims to have an anchor partner that it can work with across its whole portfolio of nanobodies. However, Mr Abnousi conceded it will be more likely the firm gains a partner per target species.