Two UK Biotechs Give Birth to Immuno-Oncology Startup Avvinity

Two UK Biotechs Give Birth to Immuno-Oncology Startup Avvinity Therapeutics
March 3, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, England – Startup Avvinity Therapeutics has sprung up from the marriage of Horizon Discovery and Centauri Therapeutics to carve out a share of the $35 billion immune-oncology market, Horizon announced Wednesday.

Avvinity will combine Horizon’s gene editing, immunology, oncology and drug discovery capabilities with Centauri’s Alphamer technology to “provide a powerful and proprietary platform to discover and develop novel immuno-oncology therapeutics, for both solid tumors and leukemias,” Horizon announced this morning. Gene therapy treatment is a high risk, high reward venture, but the promises of therapies developed through these programs could be life changing for patients. The goal and promise of gene therapy is developing a treatment that only has to be administered once a decade or longer. Through Horizon, Avvinity has access to use rAAV gene editing for non-therapeutic applications, as well as access to CRISPR/Cas9 technology. "CRISPR" refers to Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats that occur in the genome of certain bacteria, from which the system was discovered. Cas9 is a CRISPR-associated endonuclease (an enzyme) known to act as the "molecular scissors" that cut and edit, or correct, disease-associated DNA in a cell.

“The establishment of Avvinity is in line with our hybrid Research Biotech strategy to not only work with partners but also take advantage of the therapeutic upside potential of the most exciting new areas of personalized and genomic medicine in a risk-managed way,” Darrin Disley, Horizon’s chief executive officer said in a statement.

Horizon said it will fund Avvinity with about $7.5 million in startup capital, while Centauri will license its Alphamer technology to Avvinity for an initial three year period. Horizon said it has already donated $3.5 million to Avvinity and will commit the remaining amount pending the progression of three developmental programs, Horizon said. What those initial programs will initially target though, was not publicized, other than the statement the company was using Centauri’s Alphamer technology to develop therapies for solid tumors and leukemias. Following the initial startup support, both companies said they are not obligated to provide any additional funding to Avvinity, although both companies may do so if the startup’s progress is positive. If Avvinity hits its developmental milestones, the company will begin seeking additional funding through external investments in order to help carry any therapies into clinical trial.

“Alphamers are an entirely novel way to target disease and represent an exciting new approach for recruitment of host immunity,” Mike Westby, Centauri’s CEO said in a statement. “Through this joint venture with Horizon, we look forward to applying our combined know-how and capabilities to develop Alphamers as important new immuno-oncology medicines, particularly for cancer indications that have proven intractable to date.”

Alphamer technology is based on chemically synthesized molecules that fuse modified nucleic acid aptamers against proteins overexpressed on the surface of tumor cells with alpha-gal epitopes, Avvinity said on its website.

Avvinity will be managed jointly by Horizon and Centauri, however it will fall under the direction of Horizon as part of the company’s Research Biotech business.

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