Startup Zebra Biologics Launches In San Diego
Published: Jan 13, 2014
Zebra Biologics Launched To Commercialize Ground-Breaking Next Gen Platform Technology For Deriving Human Therapeutic Antibodies /b>
Zebra closes insider seed round to commence operations
SAN DIEGO--Founders and investors are pleased to announce the formation and launch of Zebra Biologics Inc., a start-up biotechnology company that will have activities in San Diego, CA, Boston, MA, and Shanghai, P.R.C.
Zebra’s mission is the commercialization of human therapeutic antibodies derived by a novel approach that allows the generation and selection of both agonist and antagonist antibodies from functional screens using a modified combinatorial library approach. This new approach was developed at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), San Diego, in the laboratory of Richard A. Lerner, M.D. Dr. Lerner is a scientific founder of Zebra and a well known contributor to human antibody engineering, including core technology inventions that have resulted in clinically and commercially important human therapeutic antibody biologic drugs such as HumiraTM.
Zebra has obtained an exclusive license from TSRI to this novel platform technology and to patent filings underlying both the core technology and an initial portfolio of preclinical therapeutic candidates generated in proof of concept studies. Zebra will maintain a close working relationship with Dr. Lerner under an exclusive multi-year agreement.
In addition to Dr. Lerner, the founders of Zebra include: pharma industry veteran Dr. Phillip Frost, CEO of OPKO Health, Inc. (NYSE:OPK); Nobel Laureate Dr. Paul Greengard, Professor at The Rockefeller University; former GSK Inc. scientist Dr. Gaung Yang, Director of The Shanghai Antibody Institute; Chinese industrialist, Mr. Feng Gao; and long-time biotech executive Dr. Ronald M. Lindsay. Dr. Lindsay will serve as Chairman of the Board and CEO of Zebra.
Zebra announced the closing of an initial insider seed round that will fund start-up activities through 2014. Financial terms of the seed round were not disclosed.
About Antibody Based Human Biologic Drugs
Orally active small molecule drugs have seen increasing competition in the past two decades from so called “biologics” drugs – most recently exemplified by antibody-based drugs such as HerceptinTM and HumiraTM, highly effective treatments for breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, respectively. Biologics, including recombinant proteins and antibodies now comprise upwards of 30% of the dollar value of the annual sales of pharmaceutical drugs world-wide. The anti-TNF antibody based drug HumiraTM, a highly effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, recently became the world’s most successful commercial pharmaceutical product with 2013 sales projected to well exceed $10 billion.
The development of human antibodies therapeutics has relied heavily on advancement of two core technologies: the in vivo approach - generation of desired human antibodies from transgenic mice that have been engineered to replace their inherent mouse antibody generating genes, with genes from the human immune system; the in vitro approach – selection from a test tube of desired human antibodies from fragments of the human immune system genes packaged into highly diverse combinatorial libraries contained in phage (or other vector) particles.
While undoubtedly successful, a draw back of both approaches is that from an initial “campaign” many hundreds or thousands of candidates are identified that recognize (bind to) the drug target of interest. Selecting from among these candidates the rare antibodies that not only bind to the target but have a desired function remains onerous, costly and time consuming. With respect to the in vitro approach, the new platform technology developed by Dr. Lerner and colleagues, exclusively licensed to Zebra, allows direct selection of rare antibodies by virtue of their desired function in human cell based functional or phenotypic screens.
The classical approach of deriving antibodies from combinatorial libraries has relied on carrying out multiple rounds of ‘panning’ or binding experiments to find high affinity ‘binders’ and then assessing these for the desired function. The new approach relies on transfecting combinatorial libraries directly into either reporter cells or primary human cell isolates such as bone marrow. Candidate human therapeutic antibodies can thus be selected directly for a desired function (e.g. activation of a specific receptor pathway, especially for hard “to drug” receptors of the G-protein coupled receptors - GPCRs - super family).
Several publications from Dr. Lerner’s laboratory have demonstrated the proof of concept of the technology and have generated antibodies that in vitro and/or in vivo studies have the agonist biological activity of important human biologic drugs such as erythropoietin, thrombopoietin and granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF).
“We believe this ground breaking addition to the repertoire of tools used to generate human therapeutics antibodies will have widespread application across all disease areas,” said Dr. Ronald M. Lindsay, CEO of Zebra. “In the past 25 years, function blocking or neutralizing antibody therapeutics have revolutionized effective treatments of many cancers and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. The founding technology of Zebra, with its ability to rapidly generate activating as well as neutralizing antibodies from function based screens, has the capability to expand the utility and versatility of antibody-based biologic drugs to metabolic diseases, infectious diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and immune regulation.”
Dr. Ronald M. Lindsay, 858-774-4784
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