Shares in Avacta Group PLC (LON: AVCT) shot up as much as 60% after it said it had agreed a major co-development partnership with a US business.
It is teaming up with Bach BioSciences, a company commercialising the research of William Bachovchin, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston.
In what is described as a “ground-breaking” co-invention, the two companies have developed a new class of drug conjugate for cancer.
Traditional antibody-drug conjugates, or ADCs, are designed to harness the targeting ability of monoclonal antibodies by linking them to cell-killing agents.
Affimers instead of antibodies
The newly-developed technology uses Avacta’s Affimers instead of antibodies.
Its engineered proteins have several innovative and distinctive features, which could potentially make them a better tool than antibodies for therapeutic applications.
They are smaller, quicker to manufacture and easier to format than antibodies, but they maintain antibody-like biologic activity when binding a target.
Bach to the future
Bach, meanwhile, has a “novel and differentiated technology” that incorporates linker chemistry from Tufts.
This selectively releases a potent drug in the tumour without requiring a process called cellular internalisation.
The combination of the two technologies represents a step forward in the development of ADC-style cancer treatment.
“The Affimer-drug conjugate circulates as a single molecule, in which the conjugated drug is inert,” explained Dr Amrik Basran, Avacta chief scientific officer.
“[That is] until it encounters enzymes selectively expressed in tumours, where the drug is released, and through its mechanism of action is designed to turn immunologically ‘cold’ tumours ‘hot’ and receptive to immunotherapy.
“It is our expectation that this will increase the percentage of responsive patients dramatically and, in doing so, it will make a meaningful difference to the lives of a great many cancer patients."
First Affimer drug conjugate
The first Affimer drug conjugate combines Avacta’s PD-L1 technology, which target’s cancer’s off-switch, and an I-DASH small molecule inhibitor.
Tufts is said to have “considerable” clinical data on both inhibitor types, reducing the biology risk.
“We believe that this new drug conjugate platform is transformational for the business,” said chief executive Alastair Smith.
“From our initial discussions with several large pharmaceutical companies, it is clear that there is significant interest and there is certainly the potential for partnering at an early stage once we have the appropriate supporting data from the collaboration with Professor Bachovchin.”
Shares up strongly
The shares responded to the partnership announcement by jumping 11.75p to 40.25p, though the price was well above 50p early in the session.
finnCap, the company’s broker, reckons the stock is worth 200p.
As well as the tie-up with Bach, Avacta is partnered with Glythera Ltd, FIT Biotech and Modern Therapeutics.
Its lead programme, a PD-L1 Affimer, is on track to deliver “several pre-clinical milestones”, the company said in a recent update.