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Gilead, AbCellera ink infectious disease antibody discovery pact


Gilead Sciences has entered into an infectious disease antibody discovery pact with AbCellera. The deal sees Gilead task AbCellera with using technologies that have landed a string of deals with big biopharma companies to find rare antibodies with certain characteristics.

AbCellera has become a go-to partner for big biopharma antibody discovery efforts, completing more than 40 projects with companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Pfizer. The interest has led to larger, longer deals, notably the 10-target agreement AbCellera struck with Novartis earlier this year.

Now, AbCellera has landed a deal with Gilead. In return for an undisclosed upfront fee plus research payments, milestones and royalties, AbCellera will use its technology to generate panels of antibody candidates from natural immune repertoires. The discovery effort will seek to uncover “ultra-rare” antibodies with specific properties defined by Gilead.

Kevin Heyries, co-founder and head of business development of AbCellera, thinks his company is well set to handle that task.

“Infectious diseases are one of the most underserved disease areas for human health and drug discovery and this area has been hampered by industry hurdles and technological limitations. However, AbCellera’s capabilities and expertise are particularly well-suited to tackle some of the challenges presented by infectious diseases,” Heyries said.

Heyries picked out AbCellera’s ability to work with any immune source and deep screening capabilities as among the reasons he thinks it can handle the Gilead project. As the technology bypasses the need for B cell fusions as traditionally used with hybridomas, AbCellera can screen antibody-secreting cells from any species and any immune source, enabling it to work with human spleens, tonsils, bone marrow, transgenic humanized rodent platforms and other materials.

The immunogenicity of antigens related to infectious diseases means AbCellera’s platform generates thousands of antibody binders. That creates a need for ways to sift through the resource and pick out antibody candidates with the desired affinity, specificity, cross-reactivity and other properties.

“We can customize our screening format to identify antibodies with those rare properties at the single-cell level, in less than a day, then rapidly sequence and express hundreds of candidates to obtain additional functional information and generate rich, annotated sequence data sets,” Heyries said.

AbCellera has experience using these capabilities in infectious disease projects. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  has picked the company for multiple infectious disease programs, including an effort to generate antibody-based countermeasures against a pandemic influenza strain.

For Gilead, the AbCellera deal adds another element to its antibody discovery capabilities. Last year, Gilead licensed a human monoclonal antibody discovery platform from Trianni. And antibodies such as HIV-specific, broadly neutralizing antibody GS-9722 are in its infectious disease pipeline.