Sanofi signs cancer pact with Asian biotech Hummingbird

In the same week that Sanofi ($SNY) invested more heavily into its European biologics center, the French drugmaker has now agreed on a new cancer antibody pact in Asia with biotech Hummingbird Bioscience.

The Singapore and Shanghai-based startup will allow Sanofi access to its proprietary Rational Antibody Development platform to help the French pharma build up its early-stage cancer pipeline. Financial details have not been disclosed.

Hummingbird currently has two lead preclinical assets in its own pipeline: HMBD 1, which is nearing Phase I trials next year, and HMBD 2, which is further back in the development pathway.

HMBD 1 targets a cell surface protein (RTK) that is implicated in a number of adenocarcinomas, particularly gastric and lung, while its second candidate is an immuno-oncology drug that targets the activity of an immune suppressor protein in liver cancer.

Hummingbird said its focus is on treating cancers that have a very high unmet need in Asia, such as those targeted by HMBD 1 and 2.

The biotech’s Rational Antibody Development (RAD) platform is built on two technologies: mAbPredict and mAbHits, which were developed by its co-founding research scientists Piers Ingram and Jerome Boyd-Kirkup, before its launch in 2014.

Its technology is designed to allow researchers to identify protein targets that are important to a particular disease and then predict the specific region on the protein that is involved in the protein function during disease.

It will then go further to develop antibody therapeutics that bind that region, inhibit the function and therefore in theory stop the disease. The tech is also designed to speed up the entire development process, according to the biotech.

The biotech is currently funded by a combination of private and public funding--including a SPRING TECS proof-of-concept grant in Singapore.

Outside of this new Sanofi deal, Hummingbird also has a collaboration with Singapore’s research agency A*STAR and several other research institutes in the city-state. Currently, Hummingbird has a laboratory based in China that it outsources its lab work to, but the biotech has its sights on building up its operations in Singapore with the support of government agencies.

“We are delighted to work with the Hummingbird team to explore this highly innovative approach to developing therapeutic antibodies which potentially could significantly improve the time and cost of developing new biotherapeutics,” Dr. Liang Schweizer, head of Asian cancer research at Sanofi, told “This agreement underscores the enormous promise of highly novel and systems biology driven approaches for drug discovery and development.”

This comes in the same week that Sanofi set out new plans to help build up its biologics and monoclonal antibody base after a $340 million investment to expand its biologics site in Geel, Belgium, which was formerly used by its biotech arm Genzyme to manufacture a single rare-disease treatment.

The French drugmaker has already expressed its wish to sign deals with biotechs, with a notable focus on early-stage assets, to help shore up its own cancer drugs in its pipeline, which includes satuximab, an anti-CD38 naked mAb, which is in Phase II testing for multiple myeloma, and a Phase I PD-1 cancer checkpoint inhibitor, SAR439684, which is being developed alongside Regeneron ($REGN).

This pipeline was also boosted back in January when it signed two biotech deals potentially worth €1.2 billion with Warp Drive Bio, a privately held biotech company, and Marseille-based Innate Pharma. These deals came around a year after it looked to be trimming down its cancer research, given cuts made to its oncology R&D teams in 2015.

It seems as if this is changing once again, while Sanofi is also said to be chasing cancer biotech Medivation ($MDVN)--the U.S. rights holder of prostate cancer treatment Xtandi--to help further shore up its oncology and mAb pipeline.

The Big Pharma has a handful of marketed cancer meds, including prostate cancer chemotherapy Jevtana and Regeneron-partnered angiogenesis inhibitor Zaltrap for colorectal cancer.

- check out the story