Immunotherapy firm Dualogics, South Korea biotech partner to target cancer

Posted by on Jun 14, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. – Durham immunotherapy company Dualogics has entered into a collaboration agreement with South Korea’s Y-Biologics to use their combined expertise to discover and develop novel cancer antibodies.

Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins produced mainly by plasma cells that circulate throughout our bodies, in our bloodstreams. The “Y” shape of the proteins resulted in the company name Y-Biologics — and, as you can see, the logos of both companies.

These antibody proteins are tools used by our bodies’ immune systems to fight off invaders such as unwanted bacteria, viruses and cancers. Antibodies recognize unique molecules, called antigens, on these invading pathogens, and attach to them. Once attached, these antibodies can recruit other parts of the immune system to destroy the cells containing the nasty antigens.

Dualogics was founded with financial support from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in 2015. It’s based on technology that was developed in the laboratory of Brian Kuhlman, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Turning monoclonal antibodies into a double whammy

For some time, researchers have been designing antibodies that target specific antigens, including some they’ve found on cancer cells. These scientists can then make many copies of those antibodies in the lab. These are known as monoclonal antibodies.

Dualogics’ technology, called OrthoMab, allows scientists to expand on the benefits of monoclonal antibodies by making so-called “bispecific” antibodies – a relatively new class of protein-based antibody drugs that can combine two monoclonal antibodies and bind two different targets simultaneously. Using advanced computational and experimental methods, Dualogics partners with industry leaders to use OrthoMab technology to create these bispecific therapeutics for a variety of diseases.

The breakthrough application of this novel class of therapy was initially used in blood cancers, where a bispecific antibody used one arm to grab, or “bind,” a cancer cell and the other to bind a T cell (T cells are a type of white blood cell that develops in the thymus gland. They play a central role in our bodies’ constant disease-fighting machinery known as the immune response).

These newly created bispecific antibodies have produced an interaction between the cancer and T cells that appears truly unfortunate for cancer cells. So far, bispecific antibodies seem to show that they can activate T cells and, as a result, kill cancer cells. Now there are more than 60 bispecific therapies in clinical development, most for treating cancer.

SIMPLIFIES PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES

Dualogics says it can produce OrthoMab antibodies efficiently, using standard antibody production and purification techniques, and design them with a variety of molecular properties tailored to specific target proteins and mechanisms of action. Right now the company says it is focusing on developing two bispecific antibodies — one for treating autoimmune diseases and the other targeting breast cancer.

Under the terms of the agreement, Y-Biologics says it will contribute “monoclonal antibodies with activity against a variety of immuno-oncology targets,” presumably proffering research discoveries that show promise for Dualogics to use its OrthoMab technology to design novel bispecific cancer antibodies from the Y-Biologics portfolio.

The companies did not disclose financial terms of the agreement, but said they will share responsibility for selecting lead candidates and pursuing the optimal development path.

POINTING TO IMPORTANT NEW CANCER THERAPIES

“We are pleased to collaborate with Y-Biologics, which has established itself as a leader in antibody development and demonstrated the ability to rapidly discover antibodies for a wide array of targets,” said Ryan Hallett, Ph.D., co-founder and chief executive officer of Dualogics. “We believe that our bispecific antibody expertise combined with Y-Biologics’ antibody discovery pipeline will lead to important new therapeutics for patients fighting cancer.” Hallett’s fellow co-founder is Tim Jacobs, Ph.D., chief technology officer.

Young Woo Park, CEO of Y-Biologics, added, “This collaboration with Dualogics opens a new dimension for the antibodies that we have discovered with our Y-max ABL (Human antibody library) and presents the opportunity to create powerful new therapies.”

A $50,000 grant from NCBiotech to UNC researchers in 2015 helped advance toward commercialization what soon became Dualogics’ technology. And a $75,000 NCBiotech loan in 2017 helped Dualogics spool up. The company has subsequently been supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and UNC’s Kickstart Venture Services.

Founded in 2007, Y-Biologics, of Daejon, South Korea, has become known for its expertise in antibodies. The company is dedicated to the discovery and development of novel antibody therapeutics based on its proprietary human antibody library Ymax-ABL and bispecific technology ALiCE (Antibody-Like Cell Engager).

Y-Biologics says it aims to be a leading biopharmaceutical company in immuno-oncology by using its two platform technologies.

And now, it’s expanding that focus by partnering with Dualogics.

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