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Oxford BioTherapeutics Inks First Deal with Big Pharma for Antibody-Based Therapy Development

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This story originally ran on May 27.

Five years and several name changes after its founding, UK antibody and biomarker firm Oxford BioTherapeutics last week announced its first major pharmaceutical deal, a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline for the development of novel, therapeutic antibodies for the treatment of primary, metastatic, and recurring cancer.

Under the terms of the deal, GSK will develop novel antibody-based therapies against selected OBT targets. OBT will also develop one of its own monoclonal antibodies as a therapeutic through to clinical proof of concept, at which point the drug manufacturer has the exclusive option to in-license the antibody for further clinical development and possible commercialization.

OBT is receiving an upfront payment for an undisclosed amount. In addition, it could receive payments of up to £244 million ($389 million) upon the completion of specific discovery, development, regulatory, and commercialization milestones, the company said in a statement.

It also would receive double-digit royalties for the sale of any products that it develops to clinical proof-of-concept, and single-digit royalties on worldwide sales of marketed GSK antibody products aimed at OBT targets.

If the pharma firm chooses not to further develop any of its or OBT's collaboration programs any further, OBT would have the option to pick up those programs to move forward.

The two firms will be choosing the targets, including the antibody that OBT will develop on its own, from OBT's library of proprietary antibodies, Harry Lamble, associate director of business development at OBT, told ProteoMonitor last week.

While the company has had deals with other, smaller pharma firms, including one with Belgian biopharma UCB in 2005, Lamble said the deal with GSK is OBT's first with a major drug company. GSK is the world's third-largest drug maker, based on revenues.

"This is very different to the other deals that we've done, which we view as enabling deals," he said. The GSK collaboration, he continued, "marks our maturity as a company."

OBT has cancer therapeutic collaborations with Amgen and Medarex and a protein cancer biomarker and diagnostic partnership with Biosite. Those agreements provide OBT access to a range of different technologies "that we've used to convert our target assets into potential therapeutic antibodies," Lamble said.

The GSK collaboration, however, is "the first deal where [a collaborator] asked us to develop a therapeutic molecule, taking it to the clinic, and clearly commands a significant" financial investment from GSK, he said. At a time when the venture capital market is especially reluctant to pull the trigger on deals, the GSK partnership is "very important” to OBT. . "To be able to get significant non-dilutive financing through a deal such as this is very valuable to a company such as Oxford BioTherapeutics," said Lamble.

He added that no time length has been set on the deal.

In a statement e-mailed to ProteoMonitor, GSK said the deal is in line with its "R&D strategy of pursuing the best science that will allow us to bring new medicines to patients who currently have unmet treatment needs." The identification of novel antibody targets is an "important" opportunity in the development of new therapies, it added, and "OBT has a sound record in [the] target identification process."

Lamble declined to discuss the technology that OBT will use as part of the deal, saying it has not been publicly disclosed, but the company's lead technology is its database of human proteins called the Oxford Genome Anatomy Project.

According to the OBT's web site, OGAP is built on proprietary disease protein information "coupled to genetic and clinical data from 50 different human tissues, including 5,000 cancer membrane proteins."

The GSK deal follows a change to the company's name late last year. OBT had been called Oxford Genome Sciences. Company officials said in December, when the new name was unveiled, that the change was made because of the company's gradual shift to a focus on the discovery and development of targeted cancer drugs.

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"It reflects the change in focus of the company on development of basically antibody-based therapies for cancer," Lamble said this week.

Founded in 2004, OBT originally was set up as a proteomics-services shop when the proteomics team of Oxford GlycoSciences, who had been laid off when CellTech bought that company in late 2003, launched Oxford Genome Sciences.

Historically, the company was set up to establish its OGAP database and mine it for cancer targets, to enter into deals with major players in the field, and to provide the company with capabilities to convert the targets into products.

OBT still considers itself a proteomics firm to some degree. However, it no longer focuses purely on discovery but instead on taking those discoveries downstream and developing them as cancer therapeutics, Lamble said.

The firm still does biomarker work, which Lamble said "is part of our ongoing discovery efforts. Clearly discovery of biomarkers is part of that."

In 2006, OBT reached a deal with Biosite to develop a diagnostic test for colorectal cancer [see PM 04/06/06]. The work there involves Biosite investigating markers discovered by OBT for integration into Biosite's diagnostic products, Lamble said.

OBT's mind, however, is most fixed on developing antibody based therapies for cancer, which he said, "is the focus of everything we do."

Over the past two years, there has been increasing interest in antibody research. In late 2007, the National Cancer Institute created an initiative aimed at improving the quality of antibodies as part of its efforts at improving proteomics technology for cancer-related research [see PM 11/29/07]. Earlier this month, the NCI and the Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank at the University of Iowa announced the availability of the first 70 well-characterized monoclonal antibodies against 26 cancer-specific targets developed from the program [see PM 05/07/09].

In the meantime, Sigma-Aldrich has been pumping up its antibody business during the past year. In February 2008, it announced a partnership with Atlas Antibodies, the commercial arm of the Human Protein Atlas, to sell highly characterized antibodies under the Prestige Antibodies name [see PM 02/14/08]. Earlier this year, Sigma-Aldrich purchased a library of 700 avian-derived antibodies as part of its purchase of the Seppro technology from GenWay biotech [see PM 01/08/09].

The antibody field has been plagued by questions about the poor quality of commercially available antibodies, many of which don't work. Lamble declined to comment on how OBT characterizes and optimizes its antibodies, but said, "needless to say, for a company of the size and reputation of GSK to want to be collaborating with us [and want] us to take one of our antibodies to clinical proof of concept, then they're pretty satisfied with the potential value we can bring to the deal."

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