Hi-Tech Cancer Drug Breakthrough

A Brazilian drug research company specialising in the development of cancer drugs, has achieved a notable coup by signing an $86 million deal allowing a US company to use a key discovery it developed in São Paulo.

The US company, Mersana Therapeutics, will pay up to US$86 million to Brazilian company Recepta Biopharma SA (Recepta) for the right to produce a monoclonal antibody (mAb) that can be deployed for the purposes of cancer treatment. This is a high-tech breakthrough for Brazil, representing the first time the country has signed an international deal licensing pharmaceutical technology developed in Latin America’s largest country.

Jose Fernando Perez, President of Recepta, said the antibodies were developed and clinically tested in Brazil and are capable of binding to targeted tumor cells in a highly specific manner, without any effect on healthy tissue. Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are proteins produced in the laboratory by single clones of B lymphocytes – a type of defense cell – taken from mice whose immune systems have been stimulated with antigens of interest.

Breakthrough deal for Brazilian biopharma industry. Image from Recepta

Breakthrough deal for Brazilian biopharma industry. Image from Recepta

“This is a unique event,” Perez told Brazilian reporters. “Never in the history of pharmaceutical biotechnology research in Brazil has there been an international agreement to license intellectual property developed by a Brazilian company. This shows that Recepta’s research and development model works.”

The model Perez refers to is one based on partnerships with universities, research institutes and hospitals, to optimize the utilization of the scientific and technological excellence of Brazil’s research system. With the collaboration of internationally accomplished scientists, Recepta uses innovation in biotechnology  to respond to the needs of society and the Brazilian biotechnology market. All of these actions aspire to produce effective medicines and less expensive treatments.

Under the terms of the agreement, Recepta will provide Mersana with exclusive international rights to its novel mAb, and Mersana will use its proprietary Fleximer technology to develop an immunoconjugate against target tumor cells.

Perez said Mersana would be able to create the required antibody-drug conjugate (ADC), using a type of binder to link the antibody to a toxin. This immunoconjugate delivers the toxin to tumor cells in a highly specific way.

Recepta received financial support for its breakthrough from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). Perez is a former Scientific Director of FAPESP.

Recepta also received US$ 14.5 million funding from the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES), through its affiliate equity investment company BNDESPar. The investment was to accelerate its research and development program which focuses on the development of new drugs for the treatment of cancer.

Crucially, Recepta  benefits from an important partnership with the International Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), the original holders of the intellectual property  behind the monoclonal antibodies (mAb). The four monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) licensed to Recepta were first developed by LICR researchers. As well as the licensing of the mAb intellectual property rights, the institute contributes scientific and technological advice to Recepta.

The Institute is a non-profit research organization, with an annual budget of US$ 100 million, which is dedicated to the understanding, treatment and control of cancer. It has branches in Europe, Australia and North and South America.

As well as the licensing of the mAb intellectual property rights, the LICR institute contributes scientific and technological advice to Recepta. The LICR São Paulo Branch, established in Brazil in 1983 and  known internationally for its participation in the Human Cancer Genome Project,  is located within the prestigious Oswaldo Cruz German Hospital in São Paulo.

Mersana Therapeutics, based in Cambridge Mass, will use its own technology to fully convert the Brazilian-made antibody into the basis of a drug using antibody-drug conjugate (ADC). The company, led by Anna Protopapas, is a young high-tech business which recently  raised $35 million in Series B-1 financing from its backers, NEA, Rock Springs Capital Management, Pfizer Venture Investments and Fidelity Biosciences.

The funding is being used to develop the technology for creating a pipeline of products based on its novel Fleximer antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) platform with its first investigational new drug (IND) filing anticipated later this year. The Brazilian antibody will be fed into the Fleximer platform.

Mersana says its Fleximer platform allows the development of ADC drugs that overcome limitations of current ADC approaches and increase the drug’s chances of effectively attacking particular cancer. The drugs developed by Mersana can deliver anti-tumor agents directly to cancerous cells. ADC therapies have the potential to more effectively treat broader populations of cancer patients while significantly reducing the side effects associated with many of today’s cancer treatments.

The financial terms of the agreement include an upfront payment and subsequent payments to Recepta, which together could total US$86 million, plus royalties if certain development, regulatory and commercial milestones are achieved.

In addition, Recepta will receive royalties from Mersana on sales of the drug outside Brazil and will hold exclusive rights to commercialization of the drug in Brazil, paying royalties to Mersana on sales in Brazil. Mersana will be responsible for the clinical trials and regulatory activities required for the drug to be commercialized.

You can read a detailed report  about  this development written by Brazilian journalist Karina Toledo by clicking here




Researching in Brazil

Brazil’s best-known scientist, the veteran nuclear physicist  José Goldemberg,  in September 2015 took office as the president of  the São…

Read more