UPDATED: Biotech startup ADCT and U.K. researchers conspire to arm anti-cancer 'warheads'

ADC Therapeutics (ADCT) and Cancer Research UK's Cancer Research Technology (CRT) group have taken up arms together to develop a slate of antibody-drug conjugates for attacking tumors. The deal gives recently founded ADCT access to CRT antibodies and peptides, which the collaborators will combine with ADCT's linker technology and anti-cancer "warheads." 

Switzerland-based ADCT plans to fund preclinical development of antibody-drug conjugates created with its and CRT's assets, the groups announced in a press release Friday. U.K. researchers will conduct the studies on the new ADC drugs in labs at Queen Mary, University of London and King's College London. The groups are keeping the financial terms and other details of their agreements under wraps.

The collaborators have started down a path that could lead to promising candidates in one of the hottest classes of cancer drugs. Antibody-drug conjugates hogged the spotlight during last month's ASCO meeting, with promising ADCs such as Roche/Genentech's T-DM1 showing that the one-two punch of targeting tumors with an antibody and delivering a potent anti-cancer toxin can boost survival of patients. And drug developers are anxious to build on the success of pioneering Seattle Genetics ($SGEN), which garnered FDA approval last year for the first ADC against lymphoma.

Big Pharma companies have angled to fill their pipelines with promising ADC candidates, providing ample opportunities for biotech firms focused in this field to find partnerships with large drugmakers. ADC Therapeutics emerged earlier this year with initial financing from private equity investor Celtic Therapeutics, which has committed $50 million to bankroll development of up to 10 ADCs at the startup. In March, the newly hatched company revealed a deal to tap anti-cancer "warhead" and linker technology from London-based Spirogen, which will help manage the collaboration between ADCT and CRT.

"We are very excited to see our potent… warheads combined with CRT's leading tumour-targeting antibodies and peptides," Chris Martin, CEO of Spirogen, said in a statement. "Together we are committed to faster and more efficient drug development, and have already commenced our preclinical work for these exciting programs. We believe this provides a very promising and rapid route to develop novel ADCs for cancer therapy and are very much looking forward to working in partnership with CRT."

In an interview with FierceBiotech, Martin said that ADCT has already struck other pacts with drug companies and researchers that haven't yet been announced. Besides those unnamed collaborators, Roche's Genentech has had a license to the same ADC technology from Spirogen since 2010. The biotech plans to use ADCT as a broker for future ADC collaborations.

- here's the release

Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from an interview with Spirogen CEO Chris Martin.