With $255M antibody biotech buy, AbbVie spies opportunity to take on tricky GPCRs

AbbVie is paying $255 million cash to acquire British biotech DJS Antibodies and its platform for targeting transmembrane proteins.

DJS is focused on difficult-to-drug disease-causing proteins, such as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). These include its lead preclinical program DJS-002, which it has been developing as a potential first-in-class lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) receptor 1 antagonist antibody for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other fibrotic diseases.

Aside from DJS-002, DJS’ preclinical pipeline is even less developed, consisting of DJS-001 for myeloid cell inflammatory disease, and two other assets in the discovery stage that have yet to be assigned a therapy area.

But for AbbVie, a key attraction isn’t just the therapeutic assets but the opportunity to get its hands on DJS’ HEPTAD platform and its ability to target specific transmembrane protein targets. Targets like GPCRs—which are the largest family of cell surface molecules involved in signal transmission—have so far been “intractable to biologics approaches,” the big pharma noted in an Oct. 20 release.

AbbVie anticipates retaining all current DJS employees and the biotech’s facility in Oxford, England. The company’s links to Big Pharma stretch back to its founding investors, which included Johnson & Johnson, while Amgen joined for a series A round.

"This acquisition will deliver new capabilities to enhance our current antibody research activities, an opportunity to strengthen our immunology portfolio, and provide a strong foothold for expanded research efforts in the dynamic bioscience hub in Oxford, U.K.," AbbVie’s global head of discovery research Jonathon Sedgwick, Ph.D., said in the release.

DJS has kept pretty quiet in recent years. In December 2020, the company revealed a $6 million seed round to support the development of the HEPTAD platform into an industrialized monoclonal antibody (mAb) discovery process.

AbbVie’s own antibody ambitions stepped up a gear this summer, when the big pharma and its partner Genmab posted further positive clinical data on their bispecific epcoritamab, a potential blockbuster rival to Roche’s newly approved Lunsumio.