AstraZeneca taps antibody-mining startup Alchemab to dig into prostate cancer

While antibodies have drawn attention lately for fighting infectious diseases like COVID-19, AstraZeneca hopes to wield them against prostate cancer, and it's starting with a proof-of-concept project with analytics startup Alchemab Therapeutics. The plan: to explore why some people get prostate cancer, but others don't. 

Alchemab will use its sequencing-based drug discovery platform to evaluate the responses mounted by individual patients’ immune systems to the presence of tumors. The first study will explore the underlying biology of prostate cancer.

The unique antibody signatures uncovered by Alchemab could serve as new diagnostic biomarkers, according to the two companies, and it could also help predict patients' responses to various therapies. That could, in turn, boost AstraZeneca's efforts to develop novel immuno-oncology drugs.

Alchemab, which is based near AstraZeneca’s headquarters in Cambridge, U.K., raised £60 million ($82 million U.S.) in a series A round last month and hopes the project will help further showcase the uses of its technology. 

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Alchemab’s target-agnostic platform scans the millions of antibodies produced by the human body to find connections among people who may show resistance to particular diseases in spite of genetic risks or other factors. The startup’s main hypothesis is that naturally protective antibodies can be uncovered in these cases and reproduced as treatments.

“Our aim is to become a major player in the identification of novel targets and antibodies in the areas of neurodegeneration and cancer,” CEO Alex Leech said in an April statement.

The series A round was led by RA Capital Management with additional backing from Lightstone Ventures, Data Collective VC, DHVC, the Dementia Discovery Fund and SV Health Investors, which helped launch Alchemab by leading its 2019 seed round, based on research from the University of Oxford, Johns Hopkins University and Mount Sinai Hospital.

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The company also recently received an Innovate UK grant award for the development of a novel antibody therapy for Huntington’s disease in collaboration with the Medicines Discovery Catapult.

By teaming up with AstraZeneca, Alchemab aims to validate the use of its platform in oncology and build a launchpad for work in other diseases.

“By working together to understand each patient’s natural immunity, we anticipate that we will be able to build our understanding of prostate cancer disease biology and potentially deliver novel therapeutic options for patients with critical unmet need,” said the company’s co-founder and chief scientific officer, Jane Osbourn.