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US start-up gains exclusive licence for checkpoint inhibitor tech

Man's Best Friend Therapeutics (MBFT) has furthered its partnership with the Wistar Institute to develop immunotherapeutic vaccines for companion animals.

MBFT has signed an exclusive licence agreement with Wistar that will allow it to take immune checkpoint inhibitor technology into the field of veterinary medicine.

The two partners – both situated in Philadelphia – came together under a sponsored research agreement established in 2016. This deal saw MBFT and biomedical research specialist Wistar evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the MBFT-201 vaccine candidate for canine melanoma in dogs with stage II/III resectable disease. 

The partnership combined Wistar's vaccine research capabilities with MBFT's expertise in developing animal health products. The partners showed the vaccine's safety and effectiveness at inducing immune responses in dogs. MBFT said this led to the further advancement of MBFT-201 and the development of a portfolio of cancer and infectious disease vaccines.

MBFT's vaccine technology is based on a platform developed and patented by Professor Hildegund Ertl – a Wistar professor in vaccine research and a member of Wistar's Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center. The firm said Prof Ertl "devised an elegant approach combining the advantages of a robust vaccine technology with the power of immune checkpoint blockade therapy".

MBFT-201 brings a triple-pronged approach, combining a check point inhibitor that also acts to increase the uptake of anti-tumor antigens into antigen-producing cells (APCs) thereby boosting the T-cell response, and fibroblast activation protein (FAP) that targets the infrastructure of the tumor. The vaccine is delivered in an adenoviral vector that yields at least one year of expression through a single application, according to MBFT.

The firm completed a phase I study of MBFT-201 in August. The study demonstrated the safety of its adenoviral vectored product and "elicited a strong immune response to key antigens in 100% of the dogs treated".

The next steps

The company will work with Wistar to assemble an optimized version of MBFT-201 that will be transferred to Diamond Animal Health during the first half of 2018 for scale-up, MBFT president and chief executive Thomas Tillett told Animal Pharm.

"We will conduct a small confirmatory trial in the second half of 2018," he said. "A larger registration trial will be initiated in 2019. We will also start development work on our next generation of oncology and infectious disease vaccines in 2018."

MBFT's longer-term plan is to develop additional canine cancer vaccines for a variety of indications. The company is also working on prophylactic vaccines for infectious diseases in food animal space, as well as the companion animal sector.

Previously, MBFT has raised $170,000 in funding. This enabled it to conduct the phase I study and develop its commercialization plan. Now, MBFT is seeking its second funding round and hopes to secure $5-6 million in order to fully commercialize its vaccine candidate. This further funding will also help the firm to begin multiple proof-of-concept studies in infectious diseases and initiate development of an additional canine cancer vaccine for multiple indications.

Mr Tillett told Animal Pharm: "The goal is to build an operating company specializing in checkpoint inhibitor therapeutics for the animal health market, using proprietary intellectual property, an experienced USDA-licensed manufacturer and a targeted sales approach initially to specialty veterinary oncologists."

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