Drug Research
Drug Discovery & Development

Abzena, UCL secure £3.5m grant from MRC for autoimmune therapy research

Published 02 March 2017

A research group from University College London's (UCL) Centre for Rheumatology has been awarded a £3.5m grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to advance the development of a novel treatment for anti-phospholipid syndrome (APS) based on Abzena's conjugation technology.

APS is a disorder of the immune system, where abnormal antibodies, called antiphospholipid antibodies (aPL) are produced. These bind to beta-2-glycoprotein (beta-2-GPI) in the blood and increase the risk of clotting. Patients with APS are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack and pregnant women with APS have an increased risk of recurrent miscarriage.

The condition can occur on its own or alongside other autoimmune disorders. Patients are currently treated with anticoagulants, such as warfarin, but these are associated with a significant risk of bleeding so there is a need for alternative therapies.

Abzena has a longstanding collaboration with Professor Anisur Rahman and his team at UCL who identified that an agent derived from a part of the beta-2-GPI molecule known as Domain I (DI) blocked the binding of aPL to beta-2-GPI. In pre-clinical studies DI prevented aPL from causing clotting.

The team has also used Abzena’s technology to modify DI in a way designed to extend the time that it remains in circulation in the blood. This is significant as patients with APS are expected to require treatment for life, so it reduces the frequency with which medication would need to be dosed.

The grant is part of the MRC’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme award and builds upon previous funding from Arthritis Research UK and the MRC.

The funding will enable the lead product to be selected, material to be produced for preclinical studies, and the studies to support a clinical trial application to be completed ready for this potential new treatment to be taken into clinical development.

Abzena CEO Dr John Burt said: “Our collaboration with the UCL team is proving successful with a promising candidate now identified. Thanks to the grant, UCL now has the funds to move towards the clinic and we look forward to further supporting the programme in the next stage of its development.”

UCL rheumatology professor Anisur Rahman said: “This collaboration has been a team effort for the last decade. Working with an industrial partner has been a key feature of the project as both the academic and industry partners provided complementary expertise and looked at the project from different viewpoints.

“In addition, we have a good relationship with patient groups particularly APS Support UK so we can obtain a good idea of what patients need from new therapies in this syndrome.”

APS Support UK CEO Lynne Kirwin said: “We welcome the award of this grant to this valuable research initiative. We have had the opportunity to work closely with UCL research team in recent years, providing feedback from patients on the therapies currently available for APS.

“The possibility of a new treatment will undoubtedly give hope to patients and will be warmly welcomed by clinicians working in the field.”

Source: Company Press Release