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1 November, 2020 - 10:07 By Tony Quested

Cambridge companies help develop Covid antibody cocktail

The UK BIA Antibody Taskforce, a UK consortium developing antibodies for treating COVID-19, has reached a major milestone – the identification of differentiated antibody combinations that will be taken forward for further development as an antibody cocktail. 

Several Cambridge life science companies are in the vanguard of the initiative.

The taskforce developed an accelerated and rigorous multifaceted approach to create a pool of over 600 novel candidates and identified a set of antibodies with the greatest potential.

Ex-AstraZeneca executive Dr Jane Osbourn, CSO at new Cambridge company Alchemab and leader of the taskforce, said: “We have accelerated the standard timelines for antibody discovery, taking seven months rather than the industry standard 18 months, establishing a pathway that can be applied to future pandemics. 

“We believe that the most effective tool against COVID-19 will most likely be a defined mixture of two to three antibodies – so the effectiveness of different combinations must also be assessed.”

These candidate antibodies are the first to be selected for the next stage of development, following assessment by collaborators for potency. Assessment of their efficacy as a cocktail is ongoing; however, early indications are showing a potential competitively potent cocktail that is differentiated from other products currently being investigated in clinic. 

The candidates are poised to move into the next phase of development where further screening and safety testing will need to be performed.  

The next phase of the project will involve manufacturing of the selected antibody cocktails to support initial clinical trials in 2021 to provide essential safety and efficacy data.

Companies anchored in the Cambridge Cluster are very much to the fore in this activity: In terms of antibody discovery, they include Alchemab,, IONTAS, Kymab and LifeArc.

The antibody screening and assessment role features Abcam and LifeArc, while Kymab again features in the antibody manufacturing function.

Alchemab is a company highlighted exclusively by Business Weekly as a potential life sciences gamechanger, with Jane Osbourn very much the inspiration.

The company is steadily building its capabilities. It has taken lab and office space at Babraham and grown the team to 17 people. It has accessed samples for B Cell Receptor sequencing and antibody proteomic profiling from patients with cancer and neurodegenerative diseases in addition to the work it has done on COVID-19.

Alchemab is working on a key pharma partnership which should be finalised in the next month.

It is also putting down roots in Canada having recently signed a collaboration with Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII) to accelerate the development of novel therapeutics to cure a range of diseases through accelerated adoption of artificial intelligence. 

As part of this partnership, Alchemab is establishing a presence in Edmonton – capital of the Alberta province – and hiring a dedicated apprentice to support advanced research sourced and supervised by Amii. 

Alchemab CEO Alex Leech said: “At Alchemab, we use a data-driven approach to learn what makes people healthy, and translate these findings into developing novel antibody therapies. 

“By partnering with Amii, we are enhancing our machine learning capabilities, which will be pivotal in building the next generation of antibody discovery technologies.”

Alchemab identifies elite controllers – or especially resilient individuals – and learns how they overcome or resist disease to develop novel therapeutics through its proprietary drug development platform. The company has a range of programmes across cancers, neurodegenerative conditions and infectious diseases. 

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