July 13 2020
Revitope Oncology began 2020 hopeful that its cancer immunology platform would be finally ready to flourish. On Monday night, that platform nabbed the biotech its first collaboration.
The Massachusetts-based company has agreed to a licensing agreement with Shanghai-based Junshi Biosciences in which Revitope can receive up to $160 million in development and commercial milestones, plus royalties. In addition, Junshi will make a direct equity investment of $10 million, equal to 9.99% of Revitope shares, as the two companies work to develop a dual-antigen targeting cancer therapies.
Revitope CEO Steve Arkinstall was recruited by Revitrope from Kymab where he was Chief Scientific Officer, and the way he describes it, the partnership is very nearly a perfect fit.
“We’ve been developing our T-cell engager platform for the past three years and it really reached the stage to optimize at the end of last year,” Arkinstall told Endpoints News. “From very early on, Junshi was one of the companies that showed enormous interest.”
Not only did Junshi demonstrate the deep understanding of oncology that Revitope sought from a partner, but also possessed a state-of-the-art antibody discovery unit. Revitope was particularly impressed with Junshi’s handling of Covid-19 treatments in China — in which they sequenced and developed antibodies and launched a clinical trial in under nine months — and is eager to apply their platform to Junshi’s existing antibody development technology.
Arkinstall is so confident in the biotechs’ compatibility that he said the two can essentially hit the ground running immediately. As part of the collaboration, Junshi is providing their proprietary antibodies for sequencing to incorporate into Revitope’s platform. Antibody discovery had been the “great limiting factor” for Revitope prior to this deal, but no more.
“There’s no downtime from having to discover antibodies; we can start engineering proteins literally on day 1,” said Arkinstall, who became CEO in January.
He described how conventional T cell cancer treatments target only single antigens, which recruit T cells to attack not only tumors within the body but also consequently harm healthy cells that carry the same antigen. Revitope, Arkinstall said, has developed a technology platform known as TEAC — T Cell Engaging Antibody Circuit — that utilizes dual-antigen targeting and allows drug candidates to be as precise as possible.
Effectively, such candidates will be inert until they come into contact with tumor cells co-expressing the dual-antigens and not attack healthy cells. Arkinstall described it like a Venn Diagram; if a cell expresses either antigen X or antigen Y, the TEAC molecule will not affect it. But if both antigens X and Y are present, indicating the tumor that Revitope wishes to target, the molecule will activate.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s about selecting antigens that are co-expressed on tumor cells and not on healthy cells or healthy tissue,” Arkinstall said. “If you combine two antigens, X and Y, that are co-expressed on tumors but not healthy cells, it’s opened up a new opportunity to exploit those target antigens.”
Together, Revitope and Junshi aim to develop up to five TEAC pairs using Revitope’s platform and Junshi antibodies, and Arkinstall hopes they’ll go far.
But Revitope is still just getting started.
“We’ve been investing in developing the technology and it was only really at the beginning of this year that we were confident it would reach prime time,” Arkinstall said. “Junshi again with their enthusiasm has been the quickest to move, but we are in active discussions with several other companies at the moment.”