Christian Zahnd explains The exceptional potency and target specificity of DARPins




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Video title: Christian Zahnd explains The exceptional potency and target specificity of DARPins
Released on: January 26, 2011. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, Fintan Walton talks to Christian Zahnd, CEO of Molecular Partners.
Origins of Molecular Partners
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here in Munich at BIO-Europe 2010. On this show I have Christian Zahnd , who is the CEO of a company called Molecular Partners based in Zurich, welcome to the show.
Christian Zahnd :
Thank you.
Fintan Walton:
Christian Zahnd , Molecular Partners as I said it's a company based in Switzerland, you have some unique technology we were gonna talk about that, but could you tell us little bit about the origins of the company and who your investors are?
Christian Zahnd :
Absolutely, Molecular Partners has been spun out of the University of Zurich so it's a typical academic start up spin out and it came out of a technology which has been developed by the group of (indiscernable) the co-founders of Morphosys an antibody focused company based in the Munich. And the technology that we were developing there was basically based on a DARPin technology and that's has been taken out of university late 2004 until since the company has been around. And the company went through the first diluted financing rounds and with Venture Capital coming in mid 2007 and the company has raised 18.5 million Swiss Francs and by a syndicate led by Index Ventures there was also our investors in that syndicate namely Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, and BB Biotech, and Endeavour. And the company went on with the cash actually to the current day and however we did a series B financing round almost a year ago December 2009 and when a company raised another 45 million US dollars from a syndicate led by Essex Woodlands and all the existing investors also participated in that round, so the current investors of us are Essex Woodlands, Index Ventures, Johnson & Johnson, Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation and BB Biotech, Endeavour.
Fintan Walton:
Okay, so there you've got an enthusiastic group of Venture Capitalist behind you?
Christian Zahnd :
Absolutely.
DARPins technology
Fintan Walton:
So I mean tell us a little bit about DARPins and the relevance for DARPins in relation to therapy?
Christian Zahnd :
DARPins can considered to be like antibody fragments technology, they are small 15 kilodaltons binding proteins, they are highly selective, they are highly specific and they are based on a natural concept of providing proteins, protein attractive proteins which are very abundant, so next to the Ig-fold which is the fundamental building block of an antibody the repeat protein is the most abundant concept of doing protein- protein interactions. And the DARPin is exactly exploring that concept to make designs, repeat proteins or designs of binding proteins with the desired function and we can generate these molecules against any specificity we like. We did that in the past of the companion in more than 70 cases and highly successfully and the DARPin itself offers quite a few unique points as compared to other technologies and talking about it's manufacture ability we do that in microbial strains a very high yield, so 10 grams per liter is easily feasible the molecules are highly stable, so in downstream processing improvisation we just heat up the bacterial lysates and basically we retain the soluble DARPin everything else precipitates and the molecules are highly soluble so we can easily concentrate then weigh beyond to 200 milligrams per milliliter concentrations making feasible circuit formulations making feasible all kind of other application forms and also shelf line all of this as a very, very straight forward thing and above that the technology really offers to go for multi specific approaches, so basically combining different of these DARPinmolecules within the one molecule and basically blocking at once two different targets and by that you (indiscernable) it's a complete novel therapeutic modality it basically offers to interact with networks of targets, with network of diseases and basically comes across the classical paradigm in biologics developments there is one target, there is one antibody you block that single target you can cure a disease which is a huge over simplification and so the DARPin really allows to go with these multi specific approaches more in a redundant pathway setting and really blocking multiple pathways, multiple targets at once.
Applicability of technology in therapy areas
Fintan Walton:
So obviously the use of these DARPins you have to be careful about what therapy areas you are going to go for diseases you are going to go for, so could you tell us which ones you've selected and where you're with those particular programs?
Christian Zahnd :
Well I am glad to do so, in principle the applicability of the platform is extremely broad, because consider going into infectious diseases, into immunology, into oncology, into ophthalmology you name it there is no limitation in terms of the applicability of the technology it's more a strategic means to decide what areas to go into. We have picked a lead as the lead compound which was a VEGF-A antagonist and which we developed for of the multiple indications and we are currently running II Phase A and II to Phase IIa studies one in the US in DME, one in the Europe in wet AMD and it's a patient trial and we have 50 patients dose to date and there are just now basically reading out a data, we have follow up pipeline in immunology and we have follow up pipeline in oncology, so these are the three areas we are mostly focusing on ophthalmology, immunology and oncology.
Business model
Fintan Walton:
So the business model that you are adopting, you've obviously got something that as you say is a broad platform it's a platform you may even describe it as an disruptive technology that you've developed, so what is the business model for your company going forward?
Christian Zahnd :
The business model is a balance of doing proprietary pipeline development ourselves and going into dedicated and engaged collaborations with big pharmaceutical companies. The Molecular Partners has closed the first major pharmaceutical collaboration on drug development early 2008 with Johnson & Johnsonand in immunology [PharmaDeals ID = 29425], so that's a collaboration that focus on inflammation of the airways and there are two problems basically making good progress in that collaboration and Molecular Partners will continue to do these kind of collaborations too and explore at the full breadth of the platform, the platform is so broad that we cannot explore and leverage to full value ourselves. So we are going to continue to do these kind of collaborations on the technology and also clearly we are going to look for the assets we are developing ourselves the proprietary assets at the right point in terms of the value generating chain and with the right point is basically to look for partner to do further advance the project.
Collaboration and partnership strategy
Fintan Walton:
Right, in a sense what you've got like I call it, like a tool kit in a sense so how do you, when you talk about a collaboration can a collaboration occur inside the laboratories of a pharmaceutical company or does the company have to come to you and you do all the science basically up to a certain point?
Christian Zahnd :
We are a great believer that those party should do the work that I understand the most of what they do and clearly there is a huge vast of experience and knowledge about DARPin technology and Molecular Partners and it wouldn't make sense at all to basically transfer that knowledge and that technology to pharmaceutical partner. So these collaborations will always be set up and are always set up in a way that we basically are exploring in the blinded DARPin technology and the pharmaceutical partner is providing biology or we also provide that, so there is different steps and different levels where we basically would hand over a project on these already technology collaborations. We clearly consider that DARPin technology not as a technology but as an engine to deliver compounds and it's very potent, it's very efficient to basically get our molecules within the very reasonable times and that's the means to basically explore and exploit that productivity of the engine.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and you have DARPins are a general set of proteins, but you have to design them presumably to develop this specificity, so just in terms of the patent portfolio that surrounds DARPins presumably you've got the broad patents that describe all the use of DARPins for therapeutic use and then you have to have a series of patents which are on the specific application of the specific DARPins to the specific disease states?
Christian Zahnd :
Absolutely, absolutely it's easy when they are more complicated, we are technically working out of libraries so we typically start with very very complex libraries 10 to the power of 12 even larger actual diversity of these libraries and with the established selection technology such as ribosome displays such as phage display we basically can select and pick the right molecules out of these libraries. So the IP protection is first amongst the libraries and technologies and second about the selection technologies how we take out these molecules then it's a lot of platform protection around the manufacturability, the developability of the moleculesand clearly as the most specific way of IP protection there is every single product coming out of library is by composition of matter claims, by topic claims, by function claims around these molecules evaluation would be conducted.
Fintan Walton:
Right, now as you said it is a broad application so as you say you've already have collaboration with Johnson Johnson & Johnson you've also got earlier stage I understand a collaboration with GSK and Roche is that correct?
Christian Zahnd :
No we had a very early collaboration with Bayer Schering [PharmaDeals ID = 38779] and Hoffmann-la Roche [PharmaDeals ID = 26646] It was not really on drug development every more on the technology itself.
Fintan Walton:
Right, okay. So going forward you are you know here at BIO-Europe you presumably meeting up with companies, so what is your strategy in terms of further partnerships?
Christian Zahnd :
In terms of further partnerships we see a lot of value in having a couple of very dedicated partners. We are not looking to stretch the technology throughout the pharmaceutical industry, we rather try to enable few committed partners, but we are also willing to enable them quite significantly. So what we are looking for is basically strategic collaborations with strategic partners which get broad access to the technology on the other hand also which enable Molecular Partners in returns obviously in a really strategic means, so meaning mostly independent from diluted financing sources. So that's the partnering strategy on the technology to go forward which is independent on what we do on our pipeline assets which we have developed the proof of concept of our own.
Future aspirations
Fintan Walton:
Right, so going forward I mean clearly you are still at very much the early stages of the development of the company, where do you want to go, what do you want to become a specialty pharma company, do you want to be just an innovative biotech company with the platform and doing lots of deals, so you said you are going to do few deals, but what's your aspiration for the company going forward?
Christian Zahnd :
Well we see a lot of potential in the platform and we see that it needs a dedicated team to basically bring the value for DARPin platform really to a proof of concept, the clinical proof of concept at the edge to the market. So there is a lot of commitment within the investment base, within the management team of Molecular Partners to really build that forward to bring that forward and whether that's independently or not that's another question so there is a different strategic options to do so, but clearly there is a lot of commitment also to bring that independently forward and really build the engine to a way that we can and basically deliver products and it's very clear Molecular Partners will specialize in terms of therapeutic areas, so we will need to cherry pick basically go in certain areas and it's also clear us too much potential we will not be able to explore ourselves if we stay independent and we will need to look to find moves that we can basically also leverage the potential the value for those aspects of the platform we cannot leverage ourselves.
Fintan Walton:
So what can we expect from your company over the next three, four-years?
Christian Zahnd :
Well I think there is quite a bit of hopefully good news coming and we expect a lot of data coming in from our lead compound, so we are just now reading out the data and this is very soon going to be published what we see there and we have very exciting early stage pipeline so also there we expect to be able to come up with very good news in the pipeline. And I believe that it would be the right thing to basically be able to announce strategic partnerships and given the interest we see in the pharmaceutical industry should be possible to basically come up with strategic partners to further build and the technology forward. And so I think we are kind of approaching a steady state in the business model of Molecular Partners where we can through the progress our internal pipeline and then also go and continue the value generation with our partnerships on the technology bills on the lead assets.
Fintan Walton:
Christian Zahnd , thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Christian Zahnd :
Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Christian Zahnd
Chief Executive Officer
Christian Zahnd , is Chief Executive Officer and member of the Board of Directors of Molecular Partners. After graduating with a Master of Science degree from the ETH Zurich he worked for Merrill Lynch. Christian Zahnd then earned his PhD from the University of Zurich. His research focused on antibodies and antibody fragments, which he studied independently and through academic and industry collaborations. Christian co-founded Molecular Partners to expand his pioneering research on the therapeutic applications of DARPins. He has been a member of the Company's management team since its foundation.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Molecular Partners
Molecular Partners is a privately owned biopharmaceutical company, located in Zurich, Switzerland, that is pioneering the development of a novel class of targeted proteintherapeutic termed DARPins. DARPins are as target specific and potent as monoclonal antibodies. Yet, being small proteins, they overcome the known limitations of conventional protein -based therapeutic approaches. Molecular Partners addresses real medical needs and develop cutting-edge medicine based on innovative DARPin products. The DARPin platform has rapidly generated a differentiated pipeline of drug candidates. The most advanced DARPin is MP0112, an inhibitor of VEGF, which is in Phase I/IIa development. Further products are in research and preclinical development. Molecular Partners balance their internal drug development efforts with strategic alliances with renowned pharmaceutical companies. Molecular Partners is backed by a very strong international syndicate of institutional and corporate investors.