#UK Abzena and Heptares in $43m bio bonanza

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abzena, cambridge, biopharma, antibodies

Abzena is raising £25 million ($31.19m) from a placing and Heptares has triggered a $12m milestone payment from AstraZeneca as the East of England life sciences cluster continues to thrive.

Abzena wants the cash to further expand its service offering, capacity and capabilities in the UK and US, according to CEO John Burt. He said: “Our existing and prospective customers are developing novel but complex biological therapies for a wide range of diseases, from rare genetic childhood disorders to cancer.

“Our experience and reputation as a biopharma service and technology provider continues to grow and as a result our customers’ demand is currently outstripping our capacity.

“This new funding will enable us to build on the group’s foundations, maximising the opportunities being presented to us and accelerating progress to sustainable profitability.”

Abzena is seeking shareholder approval at a general meeting on April 21 at Babraham Research Campus.

Abzena’s services are currently provided to a global customer base, including 18 of the top 25 major biopharmaceutical companies over the past three years. Since its IPO in July 2014, the company has significantly expanded both its service offering and geographic footprint through two acquisitions in the US, substantially increasing its client base and breadth of service offering in the process.

The group has continued to secure further licence agreements for Abzena Inside technologies which have been incorporated into products being developed by its customers. Twelve ‘Abzena Inside’ products are in clinical development (compared to five at the time of IPO) and the group anticipates a further two to three such products entering clinical trials each year.

Abzena will be upgrading its biomanufacturing, biology and chemistry facilities and capabilities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Herts-based Heptares Therapeutics – a wholly owned subsidiary of Sosei of Japan – has achieved an important milestone in its immuno-oncology collaboration with AstraZeneca, which is focused on the development of AZD4635 (HTL-1071) as a potential new treatment for a range of cancers. As a result, Heptares has been notified today that the achievement has triggered a $12 million payment from AstraZeneca.

AZD4635 is a potent and selective, orally available, small molecule adenosine A2A receptor antagonist discovered by Heptares and licensed to AstraZeneca in 2015.

The milestone was triggered by the successful completion of a preclinical programme that demonstrated a clear effect of AZD4635 in reversing adenosine-mediated T-cell suppression and enhancing anti-tumour immunity. 
Tumour cells have evolved mechanisms to evade the immune system, including through the production of a natural anti-inflammatory molecule called adenosine. 

By stimulating A2A receptors, adenosine prevents T-cells within the immune system from being activated and reduces their ability to destroy cancer cells. Blocking A2A receptors can therefore promote the anti-cancer response of T-cells within the tumour microenvironment.

“The preclinical study results are very exciting and confirm that inhibition of A2A signalling offers an attractive mechanism to treat cancers by preventing tumours from evading the immune system and making them susceptible to checkpoint inhibitors,” said Fiona Marshall, CSO of Heptares and Sosei. 

“We now look forward to the results from the first clinical study with AZD4635 around the end of the year.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Abzena CEO, John Burt

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