Boehringer Ingelheim today announced the acquisition of Abexxa Biologics Inc., a biopharmaceutical company taking a new approach in the fields of immuno-oncology and oncology research to develop the next generation of precision medicines designed to revolutionize cancer treatments. The acquisition will allow Boehringer Ingelheim to access Abexxa’s expertise in targeting cancer-specific proteins that are located inside the cell, rather than those expressed on the cell membrane. This enlarges the pool of potential cancer antigen targets. In particular, Abexxa’s technology could lead to the development of cancer immunotherapies that are effective in a broader range of patients and cancer types.
“The acquisition of Abexxa bolsters our commitment to tumor-antigen discovery and new ways of targeting intracellular antigens. Their cutting-edge know-how and technologies for antigen discovery and novel antibody generation strongly complement the current approaches we have been applying successfully to enable immune-targeting of cancer cells,” said Clive R. Wood, Ph.D., corporate senior vice president and global head of discovery research, Boehringer Ingelheim. “By expanding our portfolio of antibodies binding novel intracellular tumor antigens, we are striving to develop unique and broadly applicable new immunotherapeutic approaches for cancer patients,” added Wood.
Abexxa’s innovative platform unlocks the ability to target intracellular antigens of cancer cells by recognizing their presentation on the cell surface by MHC class 1 molecules. While the Abexxa platform addresses the more common HLA-A2 peptide presentation, the company has developed specific expertise in the nonclassical MHC class 1 molecule HLA-E, which has the potential to impact a broader set of cancer patients’ antigens. More specifically, Abexxa has developed a first-in-class T-cell receptor (TCR)-like antibody that can be used to disrupt the NKG2A:HLA-E immune checkpoint axis in oncology. Abexxa molecules are also being formulated to recruit immune cells targeting HLA-E peptide complexes on tumors.
In 2016, Boehringer Ingelheim’s Venture Fund, the arm of the company that invests in ground-breaking therapeutic and digital health approaches, awarded Abexxa initial investment funding. Later that year, Abexxa won Boehringer Ingelheim’s Innovation Prize, which facilitates business growth and rewards new companies for their dedication to innovation. The prize allowed Abexxa to expand operations into a shared lab space in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to continue its research. Boehringer Ingelheim’s investment in Abexxa demonstrates how the company is seeking to foster innovation across leading biotech communities, including the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area.
“The investment by Boehringer Ingelheim’s Venture Fund in 2016 was a defining moment for Abexxa,” said Debra Wawro Weidanz, co-founder and CEO of Abexxa. “The acquisition by Boehringer Ingelheim allows our team to access the company’s expertise and capabilities in immuno-oncology and antibody development and to have the opportunity to translate Abexxa technology into a clinical asset,” said Jon Weidanz, Ph.D., co-founder and CSO of Abexxa.
This transaction is the latestin a series of strategic acquisitions and collaborations that reinforce Boehringer Ingelheim’s overall oncology strategy, bringing together cancer immunology and cancer cell directed therapies to fight cancer. This strategy has further strengthened Boehringer Ingelheim’s position in oncology through the development of leading assets and robust capabilities in cancer vaccines, oncolytic viruses, T-cell engagers, antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) and myeloid and stromal cell modulators. By combining its world-class in-house research and development with that of highly innovative biotechnology companies like Abexxa, Boehringer Ingelheim is developing innovative cancer immunology therapies and accelerating the delivery of the next generation of cancer treatments.