Avacta Group PLC's (LON:AVCT) Affimer technology may hold the key to delivering DNA-based treatments that more effectively and efficiently tackle diseases such as cancer.
Early encouraging signs have emerged from the company's collaboration with Finland's FIT Biotech.
The data showed sustained production of Affimer molecules by the muscle tissue of mice. This was achieved from a single dosing of the Affimer DNA using the FIT technology.
Why is this interesting? Well, therapeutic proteins such as monoclonal antibodies are routinely administered to patients by injection at regular time intervals.
Quicker, easier, cheaper
One way of avoiding often painful process is to trigger the patient's own body to make the protein by injecting the recipe in the form of DNA. This is called gene delivery.
The commercial benefit of this approach is that the production of DNA is substantially cheaper and quicker than the production of the protein itself.
The ideal protein for gene delivery must be produced easily by the patient's cells. It should also be able to deliver a clinically effective dose and promote a stable and prolonged therapeutic effect.
Cue Avacta's Affimers. They are small, engineered proteins capable of binding specific molecular targets in a similar way to antibodies.
Smaller, quicker to manufacture
However, compared with antibodies, Affimers have several innovative and distinctive features. They are smaller, quicker to manufacture and easier to format, but they maintain antibody-like biologic activity when binding a target.
The FIT study found "clinically relevant" levels of Affimer drug in the blood stream of mice for over one month following a single dose of Affimer DNA into the leg muscle tissue.
It also revealed higher levels of Affimer production when compared to an antibody use.
Avacta chief executive, Dr Alastair Smith, said: "The potential commercial and patient benefits of achieving sustained production of Affimer therapeutics by the body through delivery of just the Affimer DNA are vast and it is very exciting to see such encouraging results of this exploratory study.
"From this initial data, the combination of the two companies' technologies appears to be very effective and we will now explore the different opportunities to take this forward collaboratively, and with larger partners."
In a note to clients, analysts at 'house' broker finnCap commented: "Proof-of-concept data showing that an animal can be effectively dosed with an Affimer by gene delivery are very encouraging and should be of significant interest to potential pharma partners."
They added: "No change to forecasts or target price, but once again this illustrates the broadening utility of Affimers."
FinnCap has a 200p price target on Avacta.
in mid-morning trading, Avacta shares soared 15% higher to 34p.
-- Adds share price, analyst comment --