May 15, 2016 (Vol. 36, No. 10)

Gail Dutton

Through a Slew of Acquisitions, Abzena Is Hoping to Become a One-Stop Shop

British-based Abzena has acquired two companies in the past year, expanding its previously specialized offering to support biologics development from early stages through manufacturing.

“Rather than being a generic service provider, like many CROs, we differentiate our offerings. Our partners can select the product to develop, or develop better products based on improvements we can make on the structural side,” John Burt, D.Phil, CEO, says.    

Abzena’s strength, to paraphrase the old BASF commercial, is that it makes products better. As Dr. Burt says, “We’re the leader in immunogenicity assessments and are expanding that offering to answer more of the questions surrounding the response of the human immune system to therapeutic products. We’re developing a better understanding of the positive activity expected with products that enhance the immune response while also understanding the risks associated with their development.

“Such assessments help developers understand whether their products have the potential to generate unwanted immune responses or antidrug antibodies,” Dr. Burt says. Abzena then can remove or reduce that risk through reengineering the protein.

Abzena focuses on developing biologics and several of its partners have antibody drug conjugate (ADC) projects in development. Companies typically approach Abzena during lead selection.

For example, for ADC projects, Abzena may develop a range of potential payloads or evaluate conjugation chemistries to select the lead compound. “We work with our partners to carry the lead candidate into cell-line development and GMP manufacturing as they move product through the clinic,” Dr. Burt says.

“Interest in ADCs is increasing, not only for oncology, but also for other indications. We’re pushing the boundaries. Therapeutic small molecules are being attached to antibodies or other targeting scaffolds such as proteins or peptides,” he adds.


Abzena has expanded its capabilities by acquiring companies with complementary expertise. For example, the company acquired Antitope, which specializes in immunogenicity assessment, protein engineering, and cell-line engineering. Abzena is also integrating expertise in antibody drug conjugate (ADC) development and GMP manufacturing. The company asserts that it can identify or create the best drug candidates for its partners to develop.

Acquisitions Added Capabilities

Recent acquisitions have broadened the company’s capabilities into the manufacture of biologics and ADCs, enabling partner projects to progress further through the R&D process.

“We recognize there are many contributing processes and technologies in the development of biologics. That’s why we’ve assembled the companies we have,” Dr. Burt explains. “It ultimately clears the way to expand our offerings, giving our partners the tools to select and develop the best possible products and then have them manufactured.”

Abzena acquired PacificGMP in September 2015. “This CMO is founded on WAVE disposable manufacturing technology,” Dr. Burt elaborates. “Acquiring it gave us GMP manufacturing capabilities. PacificGMP is our major footprint in the U.S. and led to the acquisition of TCRS,” which allowed Abzena to provide the next step in ADC development.

TCRS, “The Chemistry Research Solution,” is a contract research and manufacturing company. Acquired December 2015, it adds chemistry services to develop linkers and payloads and produce ADCs, thanks to its expertise in bioconjugation and synthetic organic chemistry.

PacificGMP and TCRS augment the capabilities of the other companies in the Abzena group. These are Antitope, which focuses on immunogenicity assessments, protein engineering, and cell-line development and PolyTherics, which focuses on conjugation technologies to develop ADCs and optimize pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.

Combining the capabilities of these companies into one, as Abzena, offers partners an integrated service that uses protein engineering to reduce the chance that therapeutic proteins will produce unwanted immune responses.  It includes development of a manufacturing cell line and the actual manufacturing of the product for clinical trials.

“If you put all that together, we can go from bench to clinical development in the biologics space with a particular focus on the product itself, whether it’s clinical or preclinical, rather than the in vivo side of the process,” Dr. Burt says.


Coming Soon: One Company, One Name

Abzena is in the process of integrating its many companies into a single, seamless entity under the Abzena name. Its website currently highlights the capabilities of each of the companies, presenting them like divisions. However, Dr. Burt emphasizes, “Abzena already operates as one company. That’s what our clients see.”

So, while projects may use the capabilities of any or all of Abzena’s recently acquired companies, the work is done within a single company. “We’re very much one group, created from the amalgamation of these businesses.”

While Abzena integrates its existing companies, it also is continuing to innovate technologically and to expand its offering. Part of this is to scale its immunology group to provide assessment of biosimiliars.

Abzena serves a global clientele from headquarters in Cambridge, U.K. and sites in San Diego and near Philadelphia. “We also do a lot of business with companies in Asia,” Dr. Burt notes.

Abzena and its companies have more than a decade of experience working with most of the 20 leading biopharmaceutical companies in the world. In January 2016 it signed a major licensing deal with a leading U.S. biotech partner involving its ThioBridge™ ADC linker technology. While the company name cannot yet bet released, the agreement represents a key milestone in the company’s growth.

By spring 2016, Abzena’s partners had 11 antibodies produced using the company’s Composite Human Antibody™ technology. “We expect to see clinical data emerging in the near future,” Dr. Burt says. “As they proceed through development, that will be meaningful to us and our investors.”      


Abzena

Location: Babraham Research Campus, Babraham, Cambridge, U.K.

Phone: 44 1223 903498

Website: www.abzena.com

Principal: John Burt, D. Phil, CEO

Number of Employees: 180

Focus: Abzena is a contract research and manufacturing organization focusing on biologics, including antibody drug conjugates and biosimilars.