MorphoSys and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center said today they will partner to identify, validate, and develop novel therapeutic antibodies against cancer.

The long-term collaboration—whose value was not disclosed—is the latest alliance stemming from the cancer center’s Moon Shots program.

MorphoSys plans to generate and optimize fully human antibody candidates against multiple jointly selected targets using its proprietary Ylanthia technology and then collaborate with MD Anderson in target validation and preclinical drug development, with the goal of quickly advancing several candidates into clinical trials.

MD Anderson will join MorphoSys in conducting early clinical trials of therapeutic antibody candidates with the goal of obtaining proof of concept, using its translational medicine capabilities, the partners added.

During the 5-year research phase of the partnership, the parties said, they will select targets and apply their respective expertise and technologies to generate and validate antibody candidates against these targets. During the development phase of the collaboration, the parties will jointly develop antibodies through clinical proof of concept.

MorphoSys has subsequent options to continue development of selected antibodies through later clinical stages.

“This deal is another step in the execution of our strategy of building an oncology pipeline of optimized therapeutic antibodies against innovative targets, with the goal of improving outcomes for cancer patients,” MorphoSys CEO Simon Moroney, Ph.D., said in a statement.

MorphoSys will work with MD Anderson's Oncology Research for Biologics and Immunotherapy Translation (ORBIT) unit, which combines industry and academic science expertise in developing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs).

Furthest along among mAbs developed through ORBIT is h8F4, generated by ORBIT platform co-leader Jeffrey Molldrem, M.D., professor of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy, for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.

Last year, Astellas Pharma signed an option agreement with MD Anderson to research and develop h8F4. The agreement gave Astellas an option to negotiate first an exclusive, worldwide license at the end of Phase Ib, with both Phase Ia and Phase Ib studies to be conducted by MD Anderson. In return, Astellas paid $26 million toward an “option premium” plus R&D funding. As a result, a Phase I trial of h8F4 is set to start in early 2017.

ORBIT is one of 10 research initiatives or “platforms” supporting Moon Shots, announced in 2012. Moon Shots consists of a series of partnerships designed to speed up translation of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that significantly reduce cancer deaths.

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