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Avacta makes progress with development of affimer candidates


Avacta is using affimers to develop its own cancer therapy, but it also licenses the technology to other companies, including major pharma group ModernaTX and LG Chem Life Sciences


Quick facts: Avacta Group PLC

Price: 164.5 GBX

Market: AIM
Market Cap: £412.32 m
  • Makes affimer molecules, which are similar to antibodies
  • Using technology licensed from Tufts University to improve safety profile of longstanding cancer treatment
  • First in-human trials for that therapy slated for 2020
  • Also licenses its technology to other biopharma companies


What it does

Biotech Avacta Group PLC (LON:AVCT) has developed a protein-scaffold platform, with potential applications in the life sciences research, diagnostic and therapeutics markets.

Avacta’s scaffolds are called affimers, which are engineered proteins capable of binding specific molecular targets, in a similar way to antibodies.

This binding property can be used to target cancer cells in the human body and make those cells vulnerable to attack from the body’s own immune system.

Many existing immuno-oncology therapies use an antibody to target cancer, but affimers have several innovative features which potentially make them a better tool for several diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

They are smaller, quicker to manufacture and easier to format, but they maintain antibody-like biologic activity when binding a target.

Avacta is using affimers to develop various potential cancer treatments, while other companies pay to use the technology in their research and diagnostics.


How it’s doing

In October, Avacta switched emphasis towards an upgrade of existing cancer drug Doxorubicin, which will be the first drug it takes into clinical trials.

Alastair Smith, chief executive, believes there is a huge opportunity for this new version of what is a longstanding cancer treatment.

Doxorubicin has been a standard prescription for soft tissue cancers for decades, but heart toxicity issues limit its use.

Avacta’s Pro-Doxorubicin can eliminate many of these problems because it is inert until it gets inside a tumour.

Take away the side effects and Pro-Doxorubicin could become a US$2bn-US$5bn a year drug, says Smith.

“If we see the same improvement as we have seen in animals there is huge commercial opportunity, especially as the safety profile of fourteen other drugs might also be enhanced through Tufts technology.”

Headline data from a phase 1 trial of Pro-Doxorubicin is scheduled for 12 months, by which time Avacta wants term sheets in place for a licensing deal that might immediately bring a US$50mln upfront payment.

That would be a genuinely transformational amount of non-diluting capital for the business, Smith says.



In January 2020, Avacta set up a joint venture with Korea's Daewoong Pharmaceutical to develop new cell and gene therapies, using a new class of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to produce affimers targeting several unnamed targets.

Last February, multi-billion-dollar biotech ModernaTX entered into an exclusive licensing agreement to develop certain affimers against an undisclosed therapeutic target.

That followed on from a similar deal reached with another major player, LG Chem Life Sciences, in December for the development of affimers for various disease areas.

The LG deal was worth up to US$300mln and in October, the AIM-listed firm signed a collaboration agreement with Swiss biotechnology firm ADC Therapeutics to develop drug conjugates based on Avacta’s affimer rather than standard antibodies.

That could be worth a similar amount to the LG Chem deal.


What the boss says: Alastair Smith, chief executive

“If we see the same improvement in humans using Pro-Doxorubicin as we have seen in animals there is huge commercial opportunity, especially as the safety profile of fourteen other drugs might potentially be enhanced through Tufts technology,” he said in October.

He also noted in January 2020 that cell and gene therapies are attracting “intense clinical and commercial interest”, with some major acquisitions of early-stage stem cell companies in the second half of last year.

Of the Daewoong joint venture he said: “Our vision is to combine our platforms to create the next generation of cell therapies, for which the potential is huge.”



Inflexion points


  • Headline data from a phase 1 trial of AVA6000/ Pro-Doxorubicin is scheduled for 12 months
  • By then, Avacta wants term sheets in place for a licensing deal that might immediately bring a US$50mln upfront payment.
  • Fourteen other existing treatments can be improved using Tufts IP, 
  • Work continues with LG Chem, ADC and Moderna on Affimer development
  • Raised £9mln in October to take AVA6000 through phase 1 trial



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