Pieris Pharmaceuticals and Seattle Genetics have announced a new collaboration on the development of bispecific immuno-oncology drugs targeting solid tumours and blood cancers. These will be designed to enable patients’ immune cells to specifically attack tumours.

The collaboration seeks to combine Seattle Genetics’ knowledge of cancer targets and antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) with Pieris’s co-stimulatory agonist and anticalin proteins.

Though no specific targets have been mentioned by either company, they have said that programmes for the project will be selected using Seattle Genetics’ portfolio of ADCs and tumour-specific monoclonal antibodies, as well as Pieris’ anticalin platform. The latter consists of artificial forms of lipocalins – low-molecular-weight human proteins that have naturally binding properties. The engineered versions are said to activate the immune system in the tumour microenvironment when fused to a tumour-targeting antibody.

“Seattle Genetics is a compelling partner for Pieris with a long-standing commitment to oncology,” said Pieris president and CEO Stephen S. Yoder.

“The collaboration combines the excellent protein engineering and translational capabilities of both companies, utilising Seattle Genetics’ tumour-targeted monoclonal antibodies and Pieris’ Anticalin proteins to create novel bispecifics. This is our third significant alliance since January 2017 and is in alignment with our goal to create a respiratory- and oncology-focused commercial company.”

Seattle Genetics is reportedly paying Pieris an initial fee of $30 million, and up to $1.2 billion in total success-based payments across three product candidates. During the research phase multiple antibody-anticalin fusion proteins will be pursued, though Seattle Genetics will have the option of choosing up to three bispecific candidates for further development. Pieris will be able to co-develop one programme in the US market, sharing development costs and profits equally, while the two other programmes will be funded solely by Seattle Genetics.

“As the industry leader in ADCs, we bring deep expertise in targeted cancer therapy development to this collaboration with Pieris,” said Seattle Genetics senior vice president of research Dennis Benjamin.

“Pieris’ anticalin technology and antibody-anticalin bispecific approach are intended to overcome the limitations of currently available immuno-oncology products. This partnership leverages our cancer targets and tumour-specific antibodies to explore multiple novel bispecific combination, with the goal of developing targeted therapies that improve outcomes for people with cancer.”