Abzena lifted as Gilead speeds up antibody development

Gilead Sciences has said it will push an antibody developed by Abzena straight from phase I into a phase III trial in gastric cancer, providing a boost for the UK company.

Gilead said on its first-quarter conference call that anti-MMP9 antibody GS-5745 – produced using Abzena technology – will leapfrog phase II and move directly into a pivotal trial in 430 patients with gastric cancer based on promising safety and efficacy data. The antibody will also start a phase II/III trial in ulcerative colitis, it added.

MMP9 or matrix metallopeptidase-9 is an enzyme that is involved in the breakdown of the matrix around and between cells, and is thought to play a key role in the spread of tumours by allowing the growth of blood vessels that fuel their growth.

The decision is a big endorsement of the programme and Abzena’s platform technology platforms, which are used to improve the profile of biologic drugs.

The Cambridge-based company stands to receive royalties on sales of the drug as well as Gilead’s simtuzumab, a LOXL2-targeting antibody in mid-stage trials for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PCS), and in earlier development for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Analysts at Edison, who count Abzena among their clients, said they are now predicting GS-5745 has a 50 per cent chance of reaching the market and could be available by 2019, three years earlier than they previously expected.

On the conference call, Gilead’s chief scientific officer Norbert Bischofberger said that the antibody is also in early clinical testing for its potential utility in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, as well as in a trial involving patients with pancreatic cancer.

Edison has high hopes for both GS-5745 and simtuzumab, with peak sales projections of $2.5 billion and $3 billion, respectively, which they say could lead to “significant long-term revenues from … 1 per cent royalties on sales” for the UK company.

Abzena was formed by combining two companies – Polytherics and Antitope – last year and subsequently raised £20 million in an initial public offering (IPO). Chairman Dr Ken Cunningham has suggested the company is now “a significant player in the resurgent life sciences industry in the UK.”

Royalty streams from Gilead and other partner companies such as Opsona, NKT, Vascular Pharma and others will take Abzena’s revenues to the next level, suggests Edison. The company had sales of £5.7 million last fiscal year, making a £4.7 million loss.

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