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Atreca, BeiGene, and IGM Biosciences Agree to Collaborate on Novel Antibody Treatment for COVID-19

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Atreca, Inc., BeiGene, Ltd., and IGM Biosciences, Inc. (Nasdaq: IGMS), today announced their plans to collaborate to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. The companies will leverage their combined technology and expertise in an effort to discover, develop, and manufacture novel IgM and IgA antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 for the potential treatment of COVID-19. Given the urgency of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the parties have agreed to begin work immediately and plan to finalize financial details and other terms in the future.

Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and immunoglobulin A (IgA) are classes of antibodies naturally produced by the human immune system and are differentiated from immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies in part by their greater number of binding domains (IgM: 10, IgA: 4, IgG: 2). IGM Biosciences engineers IgM and IgA antibodies with greater binding power per antibody, relative to comparable IgG antibodies. This greater binding power could potentially result in better activity against a broader range of variants of the virus which causes COVID-19, as compared to traditional IgG antibodies. IgA and IgM antibodies also have the inherent property of active transport from the blood stream to mucosal surfaces, such as in the lung, which may provide a therapeutic advantage for respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.

The alliance will utilize Atreca’s proprietary discovery platform to generate the sequences of antibodies made by particular B cells found in blood obtained from acutely infected COVID-19 patients. IGM’s technology platform will then be leveraged in an effort to develop and manufacture engineered IgM and IgA therapeutic antibodies from the identified sequences.

BeiGene has agreed to provide global clinical development support by leveraging its more than 1,100-person global development team across China, the United States, Europe, and Australia, including leading global regulatory interactions for any potential drug candidate that is developed. BeiGene is a leader in global clinical development with 26 potentially registration-enabling trials ongoing and over 60 studies enrolling patients in more than 35 countries. Its large, global clinical development team is focused on high-quality, efficient drug development optimized for global regulatory submissions.

Atreca and IGM have entered into a Material Transfer and Collaboration Agreement to enable the parties to begin working together immediately. Atreca, IGM, and BeiGene plan to discuss further terms and arrangements in the future. If research, manufacturing, and regulatory activities proceed very well, then the companies believe that an antibody may be ready to begin clinical testing in the first half of 2021.

“Atreca has a history of successfully generating potent, neutralizing antibodies against a number of infectious disease pathogens, and we are proud to join BeiGene and IGM in working to identify a potential therapy to help address this unprecedented international health crisis,” said John Orwin, Chief Executive Officer of Atreca. “We believe our discovery platform is uniquely positioned to rapidly isolate a broad range of relevant antibody sequences from COVID-19 patients that can then be used to create potentially effective targeted therapies. We have begun processing samples obtained from acutely infected COVID-19 patients and are focused on analyzing single plasmablast B cells isolated from these samples to identify antibodies targeting potentially novel epitopes that may be missed by other approaches that rely on a specific viral protein to select B cells.”

“Helping patients is core to our mission, and we believe IGM may be the only company in the world that is currently positioned to produce IgM and IgA antibodies with high yield and high quality,” said Fred Schwarzer, Chief Executive Officer of IGM Biosciences. “As such, we feel that we have a responsibility to explore the utility of these antibodies in COVID-19 patients. We believe that IgM and IgA antibodies created from sequences identified with Atreca’s platform may produce better binding, cross-reactivity, neutralization, and mucosal transport than the corresponding IgG antibodies. These characteristics, plus IGM’s ability to efficiently manufacture IgM and IgA antibodies, gives us confidence in the collaboration and hope that we may develop a product that will be of significant benefit to public health.”

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, equally notable is the desire for international scientific collaboration and cooperation,” said John V. Oyler, Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of BeiGene. “We are grateful for the opportunity to lend our global clinical development resources to this critical cause, with both Atreca and IGM to leverage their innovative discovery and development platforms in an effort to combat COVID-19.”

Atreca’s proprietary discovery platform, including its Immune Repertoire Capture® (IRC™) technology, generates bias- and error-corrected, natively paired heavy and light chain sequences of the antibodies expressed by single plasmablast B cells isolated from patient blood samples, enabling analyses of patient antibody repertoires generated in an active immune response in a target agnostic fashion, and permitting selection of antibody sequences for immediate gene synthesis and expression. IGM’s proprietary platform expands upon the inherent characteristics of IgM and IgA antibodies and enables the rapid development of engineered therapeutics. IGM’s technology allows it to create IgM and IgA antibodies with higher affinity and avidity than naturally occurring IgM and IgA antibodies, and the company has also overcome the historical difficulties in recombinantly expressing and manufacturing IgM and IgA antibodies.

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