Synthon taps Dutch blood donor group for CD47 program

CD47 and a related pathway are involved in sending a "don't eat me" signal to immune cells.

The organization that runs the Netherlands' network of blood donors, Sanquin, knows a thing or two about hematology, and it turns out also cancer. It has just licensed rights to a cellular pathway that could underpin new immuno-oncology treatments to Dutch biotech Synthon BV.

Nijmegen-based Synthon has acquired rights to all of Sanquin's know-how relating to an immune checkpoint receptor called CD47 and a related pathway (SIRPα—also known as CD172a or SHPS-1) that seems to play a role in regulating immune responses to malignant cells.

In a nutshell, when SIRPα binds to CD47 it sends out a "don't eat me" signal that prevents white blood cells called phagocytes from engulfing cancer cells and directing other immune cells to attack them. Some cancer cells express CD47 at high levels and—according to research in animals—this seems to correlate with poor survival.

Synthon said it has licensed patents as well as lead antibodies that target the CD47-SIRPα pathway, but isn't revealing how much it will spend on the deal.  

Sanquin has published a brochure (PDF) on the technology, suggesting it has the potential to "reduce the frequency and/or dosing of therapeutic antibody therapies", which could cut costs whilst increasing the effectiveness of treatment.

"This technology could dramatically increase the range of antibody therapeutics that would be suitable for clinical application by significantly increasing antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC)," the brochure said.

Sanquin is not alone in pursuing the CD47 pathway however. Researchers at Stanford University led by Irv Weissman have already advanced a humanized anti-CD47 antibody called Hu5F9-G4 into clinical trials, and launched startup firm Forty Seven to run the project. Last year, Forty Seven picked up $75 million in funding from private investors including Alphabet's GV venture arm.

Last November, Forty Seven started phase 1/2 trials of Hu5F9-G4 in combination with Eli Lilly's Erbitux (cetuximab) in colorectal cancer and alongside Roche's Rituxan (rituximab) in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and diffuse B cell lymphoma (DBCL) patients.  

Meanwhile, Canada's Trillium Therapeutics also has an active CD47 program and has generated the first data from a phase 1 trial of its TTI-621 candidate in relapsed or refractory hematologic malignancies.

The Synthon agreement is the latest in a series of licensing deals for nonprofit Sanquin, which has been responsible for the blood supply in the Netherlands since the late 1990s and has 150 researchers and 80 technicians among its 3,000 workers.

Last year the organization signed a deal with BioLegend for a technology used to study antigen-specific T cells, and granted a license to Neon Therapeutics for a platform used to develop therapeutic cancer vaccines.