Amgen taps Abilita Bio’s membrane protein technology

Abilita's EMP technology is designed to solve some of the difficulties in drugging some targets, including GCPRs, ion channels and transporters. (RawPixel)

Amgen and Abilita Bio have inked a research deal in which Abilita will use its Enabled Membrane Protein (EMP) platform to help Amgen work to develop drugs for challenging targets.

Details were thin on the ground, with the duo saying only that it is a multitarget collaboration and that they would target challenging integral membrane proteins using San Diego-based Abilita’s technology. Financial details were not disclosed.

The EMP technology combines high-throughput mutagenesis—a process by which the genetic information of an organism is changed, causing a mutation—with a “robust microbial selection system.” It is designed to solve some of the difficulties in drugging some targets, including G protein-coupled receptors (GCPRs), ion channels and transporters, with small molecules and antibodies, Abilita said in a statement.

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"This exciting new collaboration aims at tackling some of the unique challenges that have limited the success of discovering and developing drugs targeting complex membrane proteins," said Abilita CEO Mauro Mileni, in the statement. "Amgen helped define the field of biotechnology and has driven innovation through outstanding science. We look forward to working with their exceptional research teams to drive tough projects forward."

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The deal comes after Amgen has struck a couple of other development agreements. In November, the company struck a licensing and codevelopment deal with Provention Bio, around a human immunoglobulin monoclonal antibody for celiac disease. It had originally developed the drug, called AMG 714, for rheumatoid arthritis before testing it out in celiac disease. Amgen initially outlicensed it to Celimmune in 2015, but got it back when it acquired Celimmune in 2017. Now, Provention stands to pick up as much as $150 million when it completes a phase 2b trial.

A month later, Amgen forked over $50 million for the rights to Molecular Partners’ MP0310, an anti-cancer immune cell activator in the preclinical stage. The duo will test the 4-1BB-FAP bispecific molecule in combination with Amgen drugs including its bispecific T-cell engagers.

RELATED: ASH18: Amgen’s anti-BCMA bispecific shines again, but CAR-T threat remains

All of these deals followed the July 2018 departure of Sean Harper, Amgen’s R&D chief to “retire” and "pursue opportunities in the early-stage biotechnology community.” David Reese, Amgen’s senior vice president of translational sciences and oncology took over Harper’s post.

At the time, analysts at Jefferies said in a note to clients: “More exec changes in the industry. Neutral impact to Amgen for Street perspective.” The firm says that Harper “was fairly well-regarded in the biotech community given advancement of numerous drugs (PCSK9, CGRP, Bone health) and recently well known for his bullishness on bi-specifics instead of CAR-T.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the agreement between Amgen and Provention Bio. It is a licensing and codevelopment deal, not just a licensing one.


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