Makes Affimers, which are similar to antibodies
Using its technology to develop its own cancer treatment
First in-human trials for that therapy slated for next year
Also licenses its technology to other biopharma companies
What it does
Avacta’s scaffolds are called Affimers, which are essentially small, 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
Avacta has selected a PD-L1 inhibitor as the first Affimer-based potential cancer therapeutic that it is taking through the clinic.
PD-L1 is a checkpoint protein that essentially provides a cloak for the cancer cells, helping them to evade detection by the immune system.
The company is soon to start manufacturing its PD-L1 inhibitor – called AVA004-251 – which will then allow it to file a clinical trial application, asking regulators to let it test the drug on humans.
That filing is expected to happen in late 2020 and the plan is to start dosing the first patients in a Phase I dose escalation study in the final quarter of next year.
As for the other side of the business, in 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 AIM-listed firm signed in October a collaboration agreement with Swiss biotechnology firm ADC Therapeutics SA, to develop drug conjugates based on Avacta’s Affimer rather than standard antibodies.
Analysts agree that the next year or two will be a busy period for Avacta, and a busy pre-clinical biotech normally needs more cash to keep moving forward.
Not Avacta, though. The company had £11.8mln of cash in the bank at the end of January thanks to an £11.6mln fundraise last summer.
Research boutique Capital Network thinks the company can “comfortably” fund itself through to 2020, when the first in-human trials of AVA004-251 are expected to occur.
What the boss says: Alastair Smith, chief executive
“The TMAC drug conjugate uses a linker to combine a chemotherapy with the Affimer, that allows the Affimer to target the chemotherapy into the tumour and to work synergistically to block immune checkpoints at the same time the immune system responds to the therapy.”
“That linker hasn’t been tested on humans yet… Testing the linker is a key piece of that jigsaw.”