Zyngenia: building drugs like Legos
By Nick Sohr - MDBIZNews, June 4, 2012
With a technology platform its founder compares to colorful, plastic children's blocks, Zyngenia is snapping together cutting-edge drugs to combat inflammation and cancer, the first iterations of what could be a long line of innovative products for the Gaithersburg company.
"It literally is like Legos, plug and play. We take an antibody, stick this on, take a different antibody, stick another one on," said President and CEO Peter Kiener, explaining Zyngenia's zybody technology.
Zyngenia's inflammation drug is slated to be in Phase 1 clinical trials next year. Two oncology drugs are expected to follow, one at the end of 2013 and the other in 2015.
All are based on the company's zybodies - molecules Kiener said have greater disease-fighting potential than drugs now on the market.
The approach builds on the monoclonal antibody technology that has produced successful therapies for cancers, arthritis and other ailments for more than two decades. A monoclonal antibody latches on to a target cell by binding to one specific kind of antigen. Zyngenia's zybodies can now engage up to five targets, making them more nimble and comprehensive in seeking out disease-carrying cells. The company believes they could build zybodies to go beyond five antigens. The Zyngenia approach, Kiener said, targets diseases more effectively and can work in a broader swath of patient populations.
"By putting these different activities on one biological molecule, whilst they still behave like good drugs, like monoclonals do, you can actually create activities to address things in a disease you can't create through mixtures of [monoclonals]," he said.
"We believe that by hitting more than one component, we can more effectively treat cancer," said Kiener. "In the very simplistic form, you get five drugs for the price of one."
Founded in 2008, Zyngenia now has 33 employees and Kiener said he expects growth in the short term to be modest. The company hopes to wrap up its second round of fundraising this year.
After the first three products, Zyngenia is looking at developing drugs for colon and lung cancers, and sees potential beyond those as well.
The company is also seeking collaborators and partners. Kiener said there have been preliminary discussions with potential partners who have expertise in AIDS and other infectious diseases. He hopes to announce collaborations in the coming year.
"One of the problems we have in infectious diseases, whether they're viruses or bacteria, is they very quickly can mutate around a single monoclonal antibody," Kiener said. "So a monoclonal antibody might work for a short while but then the pathogen can mutate around it. But if I'm hitting it five different places and all of those five are lethal to the organism then it is very difficult for that organism to mutate and survive."