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The Russian connection
MONTREAL, QuebecóAlethia Biotherapeutics Inc., a privately held biotechnology company focused on developing therapeutic monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapies, announced in late May that it has entered into a global strategic alliance with the Russian organization International Biotechnology Center (IBC) Generium to jointly develop AB-16B5, a mAB inhibitor of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) that may have useful oncology applications.
Under the terms of the alliance, Alethia and IBC Generium will collaborate for the ongoing development of AB-16B5, and upon completion of the initial clinical study, share equally in the downstream economics in territories outside Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) nations. Alethia will receive an unspecified upfront cash payment and research and development funding to conduct the initial clinical study in Canada. In addition to an exclusive license granted to IBC Generium for other territories, IBC Generium has also been granted the right to an exclusive license for Russia and the CIS states for which development milestones and royalties would be payable to Alethia.
The agreement signed between Alethia and IBC is the first chance that the two companies have had to work together, but at the same time, it represents a continuing relationship to develop AB-16B5.
"Alethia was initially discussing the possibility to partner the anti-clusterin (AB-16B5) program with Affitech during the later part of 2011," Yves Cornellier, president and CEO of Alethia, explains to DDNEWS. "Affitech was a public mAb company based in Copenhagen which was subsequently acquired by IBC Generium during the first half of 2012. During the acquisition process, our discussions stopped with Affitech but resumed with people from IBC, this time in August 2012. The discussions intensified and reached the term sheet stage at the end of December 2012. The deal was finally closed in May 2013."
"EMT is a key contributor to both tumor invasion and the emergence of resistance to many cancer therapies," noted Daniil Talyanskiy, chief business officer at IBC Generium, in the news release about the deal, saying how pleased his company is to have formed this global strategic alliance with Alethia. "The excellent EMT inhibitor program developed at Alethia represents a unique opportunity for our company to accelerate the development of a novel therapy with potential applications in multiple cancer indications."
Alethia wanted to find a partner for this potential therapeutic, Cornellier says, because this product was the only one that had not emerged from Alethia's proprietary STAR target discovery platform.
"This product was actually in-licensed from the National Research Council of Canada in 2007 in order to have a mAb product on which the company could acquire mAb product development expertise before its current products reached the clinic," he explains. "Given that the company had now two other products discovered with its platform and already at the preclinical stage, the board of directors felt that it was in the strategic interest of the company and shareholders to prioritize these products and use non- dilutive revenue obtained from a partner to further advance the program and create more value for both companies if at all possible."
The bare minimum goal of IBC and Alethia is to bring AB-16B5 to the end of Phase I/II clinical testing (proof of efficacy in a patient population) before finding a partner interested in acquiring a global exclusive license and bringing the product to the market.
"It is understood that IBC and Alethia would share the profit of any such transactions," says Cornellier. "It is also understood that the global license in question would exclude Russia and the CIS territories for which IBC had already concluded an exclusive option to license agreement with Alethia for this part of the world."
Alethia brings to the table a lot of expertise and know-how in the field of EMT, Cornellier says, and the company believes that AB-16B5 is the most potent inhibitor of EMT being developed right now. On the IBC side, he adds, the company is currently the largest biotech company in Russia, and "aside from its expertise in manufacturing mAbs and other biologics in Russia, is committed to participate in the development of new innovative products globally and locally and has the critical human, physical and financial resources to achieve its goals."
Further, Cornellier notes, it is the understanding of Alethia's leadership team that IBC is committed to the idea of concluding several more transactions like the one just forged with Alethia to strengthen its own product pipeline.