ProtAffin: A new class of biopharmaceuticals entering clinical development




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Video title: ProtAffin: A new class of biopharmaceuticals entering clinical development
Released on: May 11, 2012. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed in Amsterdam at BioEurope Spring 2012, Fintan Walton talks to Jason Slingsby, CEO of ProtAffin
Lead program and discovery technology
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review, on this show I have Jason Slingsby who is CEO of a company called ProtAffin which is based in Austria but also has offices in London, welcome to the show.
Jason Slingsby:
Thanks very much.
Fintan Walton:
ProtAffin is a biotechnology company that's relatively new company it has developed some interesting platform technology which can hopefully generate new types of products new drugs in the future, so Jason the first question for you really is what's the origins of the company and what's the underlying science that is the basis of your organization.
Jason Slingsby:
So thanks having me on your program, ProtAffin was founded around really the understanding that sugars tune protein function in Vivo and that proteins need to bind sugars to drive inflammation and to drive some cancer processes. So while the rest of the biologics community has really focused on antibodies which are proteins targeting other proteinswe have pioneered the approach I think pretty interestingly over the last few years of engineering proteins to target sugars which normally trigger and stimulate inflammatory processes so in that way it is new science it's science that we have contributed to but also the company is working in the world of heparins we've contributed to and we are now at a very exciting point of the development of the company soon turn to phase I.
Fintan Walton:
So in order to play in that field you have to both understand the biology the actual mechanisms that proteins and carbohydrates or glycans can interact but also you have to have the engineering capability to play with those as well you have got both of those?
Jason Slingsby:
Yes that's right. So we are I think quite unusually a company that understands protein structure and function as well as sugar structure and function and since we were founded in 2005 we've taken this unique approach to work out how all proteins bind all sugars and we have assimilated this information in a database that we call GlycAffiBase, we will be making further announcements about this database later this year and we use that information to work out where proteins naturally bind sugars and we engineer higher binding into these proteinsfor these sugars and turn them into immune blockers. So our lead program is based on interleukin-8 (IL-8) well known as the key signal for neutrophils and a lot of steroid resistant diseases such as COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), cystic fibrosis and we turn inflammatory normal interleukin-8 into a decoy that binds sugars more strongly but no longer activates immune system so we flip the bad protein IL-8 into being an anti-inflammatory protein given our expertise and that expertise and assays and patents that have been granted we call the CellJammer discovery technology which is our platform that we have used to generate our pipeline.
Fintan Walton:
So you've engineered interleukin-8 to become a decoy protein?
Jason Slingsby:
Yes, so it is traditionally one of the most well known inflammatory proteins in the COPD and cystic fibrosis and our drug which is called PA401is an anti-inflammatory variant violate which now suppresses and stops inflammatory processes.
Focus and distinct approach towards protein interactions
Fintan Walton:
Very interesting, so as you said you are quite distinct from the rest of the group of companies looking at protein protein interactions, you've talked about how important glycans a protein glycan interactions as fine tuning so are you saying that in a sense that you enter into a field that exists obviously naturally but has never really been explored properly?
Jason Slingsby:
That's right, I would say the people Heparin is the best known glycan and has been successfully marketed product for the last forty years and the traditional approach was to try to engineer clever sugars to bind certain proteins in inflammation and in cancer. Notable companies in the field have been Sanofi and also Momenta in the US, we have just taken the alternative approach biologics a very much appreciated in the industry currently we were the first to have the idea filed very broad IP a lot of which is now granted and this way we do not have many of the problems that small molecule developers trying to target IL-8 have had, there are three programs Merck, Astrazeneca and GSK have small molecule IL-8 receptor blockers with some promising phase II data but there does seem to be some effects overall on the immune system that we do not have and we see a broader anti-inflammatory activity in our preclinical models compared to the pharma competitors, so it is a biologic it is a novel mechanism but we see that mechanism blocking chemokines and blocking IL8's broader but without affecting the immune system status globally.
Fintan Walton:
So there are other companies in the past that have been around GlycoFi for which was brought by Merck at one stage and also Oxford Glycosciences, just help us to understand how you differentiate from those type of companies.
Jason Slingsby:
Yes, it's a good question, those companies have focused on branched short sugars or end linked sugars involved with making proteins have the right PK or the right properties very important but what we are doing is the different sugars the long linear sugars and we are the first people to see that as a drug target and to use that protein sugar knowledge for a therapeutic intervention, so in that sense we hope it is potentially a very valuable opening up new targets to intervention.
Financing and funding series
Fintan Walton:
Right, now you've done funding for the company you've gone through a series A and series B just generally I know then in series B you managed to get SR One and you got some more Atlas came as well, so for a company like yours is it difficult to raise money at the moment?
Jason Slingsby:
Well I think good money follows good data and good money follows good progress so our history I think as a company founded in Austria we were very well supported I think the Austrian industry has a lot of promising companies because of the ability to have seed finance of one or two million Euros to get your company going, kind of measures that would I am sure would be appreciated in other countries such as the UK. So we had seed financing in 2007 AesCap Venture lead our series A of four million Euros and we are here in Amsterdam today nearby AesCap but our 15 million Euros series B as you was co-lead by GSK's venture fund and Atlas out in Boston. So I think we have got a very nice mix between European investors, US investors and this is our year I think we are just about to we are finalizing our CTA our clinical trial application for this IL-8 lead in neutrophilic lung inflammation so we expect to start phase I in second quarter this year and fingers crossed to have top line data by the end of this year. So really does tremendously exciting new modality first time in man and I think we have done it in a reasonably capital efficient way.
Business strategy
Fintan Walton:
Okay so what is your overall business strategy here you have got funding obviously to take a product into clinical further down into clinical development into phase II etc it's going to be costly so partners so what's your partnering strategy?
Jason Slingsby:
So I think phase I is a potential point to seek partners, we have the ability in this phase I to also have a model of lung inflammation volunteers breath in a substance called LPS which stimulates kind of model lung inflammation relevant for COPD and relevant CF so we will test two doses of our drug to see reduction in cells in the lung and we have eleven biomarkers in preclinical that we will see how well they translate into phase I. So given the underlying strength of our package I think there could be interest at the end of phase I, should we decide to then go on to do a phase IIA in patients either hospitalized COPD exacerbation or potentially in cystic fibrosis that would be likely to be a sixteen to twenty million Euro a series C round but I think we will just have to judge the best thing to do middle of next year when we have our phase I data.
Chemokine programs and partnership strategies
Fintan Walton:
Okay you've talked about your lead program what are other molecules you are developing?
Jason Slingsby:
So we are not a one trick pony but I must admit there is nothing wrong with one trick ponies that's certainly easier to manage this is a platform we our home territory is chemokines which are an exciting a target class in the immune system interestingly ChemoCentryx had a very successful IPO recently ChemoCentryx developed small molecule blockers of chemokine receptors I think their pre-money IPO evaluation was the best for the last two years so there's definitely interest in this class of proteins. We have achieved in vivo proof of concept with three other chemokines, our number two program is MCP-1 decoys this is a macrophage blocking program macrophage has been key in many inflammatory diseases and lung diseases so we are looking more at selecting the indication this year and our third program is a decoy STF-1 a homing chemokine but also involved in lung fibrosis and in ophthalmology, so for us it's a balance between investing clearly tight focused on the validating asset which is our IL8's program into phase I but also having some flexibility with other assets for partnerships and to show that this is a big idea.
Fintan Walton:
So those earlier programs are for partnering as well right now?
Jason Slingsby:
Yes, and we are seeking partnerships at the moment on the CellJammer discovery platform, and we are saying to pharma if your protein of interest is soluble use an antibody if it's one of the five hundred that binds glycans please speak to us because our platform might have benefits over your standard tools, so we are reaching out to companies now to see if we can have a partnership in a similar way that an antibody company would have Pharma-Rex says we have a couple of targets we think there might be complex in bind glycans we can work with them to decide are they really glycan binding and are they amenable to modification, so we hope to develop our first announced deal later this year.
Fintan Walton:
Excellent, well Jason thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Jason Slingsby:
Thanks very much Fintan.
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).
Jason Slingsby
CEO
At the time of recording this PTV interview Jason Slingsby serves as co-founder and CEO of ProtAffin AG since 2005. He has worked over the last 14 years at the listed biotech companies Oxford BioMedica (UK), Sosei Co. Ltd (UK/Japan) and Intercell (Austria). He was awarded a 1st class honours degree in Biochemistry at Magdalen College, Oxford University, and was awarded a PhD in Inflammatory Disease Genetics by Imperial College London under supervisor Prof. Mark Walport, the current Chief Executive of the Wellcome Trust. He was later awarded an MBA with Distinction from London Business School, where he focussed on innovative technology companies and general management. Jason has published a number of scientific papers and is inventor on a number of patents.
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.
ProtAffin AG
ProtAffin AG is a European biotechnology company developing a novel class of next-generation biopharmaceuticals for respiratory disease, inflammation and oncology, which act by targeting cell-surface glycan structures. The majority of marketed biopharmaceuticals, including monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), function by modifying interactions between proteins. While this approach has reshaped the industry, the regulation of protein function by modulating protein glycan interactions has largely remained unexplored. ProtAffin 's lead product is PA401, a decoy IL-8 protein in preclinical development for lung diseases in which neutrophils cause chronic lung damage, such as COPD. The company has generated a pipeline of products using its CellJammer discovery technology, an efficient engine for the discovery of novel biologics and applicable to over 500 identified glycan-binding targets.