May 14, 2020

Recombinant Antibody Network Partners with Bristol Myers Squibb to Develop Novel Therapies

Research, Education, Faculty & Staff, Alumni
vials of antibody medicine with syringes

vials of antibody medicine with syringes

The Recombinant Antibody Network (RAN), a consortium comprising research groups from the University of Toronto, UC San Francisco (UCSF), the University of Chicago have announced that they have entered into a second research collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb, aimed to create and develop high-performance recombinant antibodies against diverse targets in human cells. The first collaboration was launched in 2015 with Celgene, later acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb in 2019.

Under the new agreement pioneered by James Wells of UCSF with Bristol Myers Squibb, Bristol Myers Squibb will further invest in the RAN’s state-of-the-art antibody engineering program to expand target discovery to oncology, immunology, and neurology. “Our partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb is a testament to the RAN’s ability to produce antibody molecules with a strong therapeutic potential,” says Sachdev Sidhu, one of the founding members of the RAN and a co-founder of the Toronto Recombinant Antibody Centre (TRAC) at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research at U of T's Faculty of Medicine where he is also a professor of molecular genetics.

As one of the largest academic-industry partnerships, the collaboration also offers unique opportunities for trainees to be involved in cutting-edge research with clinical application. Additionally, the collaboration provides an opportunity for potential sharing of research performed by both RAN scientists and Bristol Myers Squibb scientists. RAN has published dozens of publications resulting from their new innovative science and discovery at all four institutions.

“This is a spectacular example of how industry and academics can work hand-in-hand to discover new medicines,” says Wells, a co-founder of RAN and a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. “RAN project teams include scientists, students, post-docs and staff at university collaborating with Bristol Myers Squibb scientists to consult on projects and discuss progress on a monthly basis.”

Antibodies as therapeutics

Antibodies are naturally produced by the body to fight infections. Thanks to advances in protein engineering, scientists can now create tailored synthetic antibodies to inhibit disease processes or mark cancer cells for destruction by the immune system.

Over the past two decades, antibodies have emerged as the fastest-growing class of therapeutic molecules with more than 50 approved so far. Unfortunately, antibody development remains an imprecise science, conducted on a case-by-case basis. As veterans of the former Protein Engineering Department at Genentech Inc., Sidhu, Wells and Anthony Kossiakoff, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Chicago, founded RAN in 2012 to make antibody design and production more efficient.

The consortium has developed a fully automated, high-throughput antibody engineering platform and has generated thousands of antibodies against hundreds of cell surface proteins. The RAN generates recombinant antibodies from cloned synthetic genes using phage display technology that are selected for high performance. The ongoing partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb will enable the RAN to continue to develop and apply cutting-edge technologies for the discovery of new cell surface targets and selection of clinically promising antibodies, as well as to expand research collaboration with the disease biology communities at the three universities.

“We created the RAN to address a large, unmet need in both research tools and therapeutic antibody development,” said Kossiakoff, from UChicago. “The RAN will continue to solve the problems that are inherent in traditional antibody approaches, and help to expand treatments for a variety of diseases, including cancer.”