Earlier today, Sutro Biopharma, Inc, a biopharmaceutical company located in South San Francisco developing antibody drug conjugates and bispecific antibodies for targeted cancer therapies, and Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA (Darmstadt, Germany), the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company established in 1668 which operates as EMD Serono in the United States and Canada, announced that they will collaborate in developing Antibody-drug Conjugates or ADCs.

The announced collaboration allows the Merck Serono to take advantage of Sutro’s cell-free protein synthesis technology platforms – Xpress CF and Xpress CF+™ – in its own oncology programs to develop ADCs for multiple – at this time – undisclosed targets.

Xpress CF and Xpress CF+™
Sutro’s technology platforms supports the rapid and systematic high-throughput screening and optimization of many protein drug variants to identify drug candidates as well as to quickly generate antibodies with the required specificity and characteristics.

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While conventional, often cumbersome, cell based expression methods for expressing proteins utilize cell lines originating from bacteria, yeast, insects, plants, or mammals, require intact, functioning cells, Sutro’s technology platform – effectively a liquid handling solution to protein synthesis – is made possible by the separation, into an extract, of the cellular components required to produce proteins from the process of protein generation itself. Thisextract includes all the necessary biochemical components for energy production, transcription and translation and can be used to support cell-free biochemical protein synthesis by the addition of the specific DNA sequence for the desired protein, and can be used to develop small peptides to multimeric complex mammalian proteins such as monoclonal antibodies. The process produces single proteins at g/L yields in 8-10 hours at any scale.

A targeted approach
Antibody-drug Conjugates have the potential for directly targeting cancer cells while safeguarding healthy tissue. The companies believe that the collaboration combines Merck’s knowledge about target biology with Sutro’s technological and discovery capabilities to jointly develop new ADCs. By following a strategic approach of creating partnerships, Merck and Sutro aim to develop drug candidates that may ultimately address the unmet needs of many cancer patients.

Commenting on the collaboration Andree Blaukat, Senior Vice President and Head of Translational Innovation Platform Oncology at Merck Serono, said: “We continue to explore opportunities that will allow us to better understand the potential ADCs have in directly targeting cancer cells. This collaboration … is reflective of our ongoing commitment to advancing innovation that may provide new therapies for patients.”

“This partnership will help us to advance our position as a leading drug discovery partner to renowned pharmaceutical companies like Merck in Darmstadt, Germany,” noted William J. Newell, chief executive officer of Sutro. “Together we will further advance our efforts to develop antibody therapeutics, engineered to deliver a cytotoxic agent to cancer cells. Our technology has been developed to allow loading of an antibody with multiple different agents and to enable a potential higher uptake of the drug in the tumor cell through improved stability of the ADC.”

Under the terms of the agreement the companies will collaborate to discover and develop multiple ADCs utilizing Sutro’s Xpress CF™ and Xpress CF+™ platforms. Furthermore, Sutro, which has established a Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) facility for the production of clinical supplies of materials using its biochemical protein synthesis platform, will be responsible for delivering Antibody-drug Conjugates for Phase I clinical trials, while Merck will be responsible for clinical development and commercialization of any resulting products.

Integrated Technologie Centers
Unrelated to the collaboration with Merck, Sutro Biopharma announced its collaboration with the laboratory of James Wells, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at UCSF, as part of the Recombinant Antibody Network (RAN), an international consortium of three expert centers at the University of Chicago, University of Toronto and UCSF funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These technology centers have created automated pipelines for the reliable selection of high quality recombinant antibody (rAb) reagents of superior functionality at a fraction of the cost of traditional monoclonal approaches.

Under the terms of this agreement, the company provides its Xpress CF™ technology for the rapid and reproducible expression of antibodies and antigens by the Wells Lab for the comprehensive profiling of different target proteins and protein families in a high-throughput manner.

“RAN focuses on the generation of high performance synthetic antibodies of tailored specificity,” noted Trevor Hallam, chief scientific officer of Sutro. “We are looking forward to working with Professor Wells and his team to design proteins and antibodies for a better understanding of cellular processes and for the advancement of medicinal chemistry,” Hallam said.

Wells added: “High-quality antibodies that perform well and exhibit high affinity and specificity are not only very important therapeutics for many diseases, they are also essential for basic research. Technology that allows for parallel screening of many variants to generate quickly validated and renewable antibodies is an indispensable tool for researching the functions of specific proteins under normal or pathophysiological conditions.”

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