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Engineering Protein Pharmaceuticals

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

Sophisticated protein engineering has largely been the domain of major biopharmaceutical companies. But genomics is flooding researchers with new proteins of unknown function and traditional techniques for turning them into drugs or for understanding their potential as drug targets are generally too slow. Start-ups around phage display, protein evolution, and synthetic protein chemistries are offering what look like faster, cheaper alternatives. But the size of the partnership opportunity for these new companies is uncertain, since drug companies still appear reluctant to embark on the development of protein drugs. In response, the start-ups are also trying to exploit the technologies for small-molecule drug discovery.

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Compound Therapeutics Inc.

Compound Therapeutics has engineered proteins, called Adzymes, which bind to targets with the specificity of antibodies but unlike them destroy their targets using an attached enzyme.

The Norway Loophole

Cambridge Antibody Technology has built a business based on an exclusive license to a key biotech patent on antibody expression libraries. But the patent holder, Medical Research Council, neglected to file for a patent in Norway. Enter Affitech, which has taken advantage of the loophole to obtain a patent on a more efficient way of creating and screening phage-derived antibody libraries and in the process creating new competition for CAT. Although Affitech can't sell the antibodies it screens outside of Norway, it claims it can legally sell optimized, already screened antibodies to anyone who wants them. And it believes it has an eager customer base.

Paying for Pharmaceutical Value: The Problem of a One-Size-Fits-All Definition

It is a world, at least the US corner of it, in which any common understanding of drug value is confused by opposing incentives – to opacity and transparency, to looking at benefit broadly or narrowly, long-term or short-term: value, in short, to whom?

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