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Pioneering Avacta making progress on all fronts

The two parts of the business - the commercial arm and research function - appear to be firing on all cylinders
blood cells
Its technology may help create drugs that help the body's immune system to defeat diseases such as cancer

Avacta Group PLC (LON:AVCT), a pioneer of Affimer technology, said the past year had been one of significant progress – both for the development of a potential drug based on its platform and its use by other customers in research and diagnostics.

Affimers are small, engineered proteins, some of which are of human origin and some of them plant-derived. They are capable of binding specific molecular targets, in a similar way to antibodies.

WATCH: Avacta boss Alastair Smith anticipating 2018 to be a very significant year

However, compared with antibodies, Affimers have several innovative and distinctive features, which could potentially make them a better tool for several diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

Smaller and quicker

They are smaller, quicker to manufacture and easier to format, but they maintain antibody-like biologic activity when binding a target.

Avacta said it had made excellent progress with its potential cancer drug, a PD-L1 inhibitor that helps the body’s immune system to tackle the disease. It expects first-in-man clinical trials to kick-off in 2019.

More broadly, the company reckons it has significantly “de-risked” the “Affimer biotherapeutic opportunity”. Indeed the technology is delivering a pipeline of opportunities, it said.

Moderna partnership

A partnership with Moderna Therapeutics, an expert in RNA research which attempts to re-programme faulty DNA, is throwing up more drug targets.

The company also has a collaboration with Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, using Affimers along with CAR-T therapies that affect the immune response.

READ: Avacta ramps up US offensive with a the appointment of three-strong business development team

And it has a tie-up with Newcastle-based biotech Glythera to generate targeted treatments called drug conjugates. There will be an update on the status of this research later this year.

“Major milestones that have been delivered in the past year include the positive outcome of the first animal efficacy data and excellent results from a major immunogenicity trial on human samples,” said chief executive, Dr Alastair Smith.

“The pipeline of immuno-oncology assets now includes Affimers for T-cell recruitment and co-stimulatory receptor agonists which plays to the key technical strengths of the Affimer technology for immuno-oncology.

“The progress with the lead PD-L1 inhibitor programme, and the overall de-risking of the Affimer therapeutic platform, has been outstanding.”

Revenue generating

Turning to the part of the business that generates revenues, the company said it had seen strong growth in paid-for Affimer technology evaluations, with the order book up 91% year on year.

Avacta’s focus has been on licensing opportunities with pharma, biotech and diagnostics businesses and reagents companies.

It said evaluations are now beginning to deliver licensing agreements and repeat work “that will underpin medium and long term revenue growth”.

Commercial traction

“The commercial traction for Affimer reagents has continued to build which is reflected in the strong growth in the number of technology evaluations and license deals that have been agreed,” said CEO Smith.

“The first license deal with a global diagnostics company represents a significant milestone and we are confident of delivering further license deals which are key steps on the path to building a profitable Affimer reagents business.”

READ: Avacta Group “significant technical and commercial” headway

Sales for the 12 months to July 31 were £2.74mln. Reflecting the research being carried out, the firm posted a £6.37mln loss.

More importantly, it was sitting on around £13.17mln of cash at the period end – which is well ahead of market expectations. Its net assets, meanwhile, are around £30mln.

Boss bullish 

Smith was upbeat on the outlook for the business: “Antibodies have become the dominant technology in markets worth in excess of US$100bn annually and this is despite some significant limitations. The opportunity therefore, for a competitive alternative such as the Affimer technology, is very large.

“We believe that 2018 could be a very significant year for the group and I look forward to further updating the market on future progress."

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Avacta Group PLC Timeline

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