GSK-backed Atreca inks license with Gates Medical Research Institute for malaria monoclonal antibody

Oncology biotech Atreca is licensing its preclinical monoclonal antibody to the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, or MRI, for the potential treatment of malaria, a deadly disease that led the World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend a first-ever vaccine in recent weeks.

The terms of the deal were undisclosed, but Atreca received $6 million from the Gates Foundation in 2012 to discover potential treatments for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. The foundation has also given grant money to other biopharmas exploring malaria treatments, including Exscientia, which secured $4.2 million last year for such work.

In the time since that initial 2012 link-up, "multiple research organizations and academic institutions" have signed on as Atreca collaborators in finding an antibody for malaria, said John Orwin, Atreca president and CEO, in a statement. 

With more than 400,000 malaria deaths in 2019, the world needs ways of curbing the mosquito-borne disease, which impacts nearly 230 million people, Atreca said. The WHO gave a boost to that work with a recommendation for wider rollout of GlaxoSmithKline's malaria vaccine Mosquirix earlier this month. 

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GSK and the Gates Foundation have backed the 2016 Fierce 15 biotech with financing since its early days

Now, Atreca is linking arms with the MRI to work on MAM01/ATRC-501.

The nonprofit MRI will lead development of the antibody and receives commercial rights for the potential treatment in countries eligible for GAVI support, an international organization that calls itself the vaccine alliance. More than 50 countries were GAVI-eligible in 2020. Atreca retains commercial rights in the U.S., Europe and regions in Asia.

The asset is an "engineered version" of the human monoclonal antibody that is generated after receiving the Mosquirix vaccine. The treatment targets a malaria protein known as circumsporozoite. In in vivo mouse studies, the antibody showed protection against malaria infection, Atreca said.

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MRI plans to develop the treatment for prevention of malaria in infant and pediatric patients in malaria endemic regions. The nonprofit's goal is to develop drugs and vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis and diarrheal disease.

For its part, Atreca will develop ATRC-501 as a malaria prevention treatment for people traveling to regions where malaria is more prevalent. That would pit Atreca against multiple current malaria prophylactic drugs on the market, including GSK's Malarone, decades-old chloroquine (which hit the spotlight during Donald Trump's presidency in the early days of COVID-19), 60 Degrees Pharmaceuticals' Arakoda and others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BioNTech, which skyrocketed to fame with its Pfizer-partnered mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, is also working on a malaria treatment hopeful, as is Lyndra Therapeutics, which picked up $60 million in funding this summer.