Discussion Group Report

Antibody Discovery, Optimisation & Engineering

By Tia Byer |
13 October 2021
Oxford Global’s Discussion Groups provide a focused networking opportunity for a handful of like-minded experts on a monthly basis. The first of its kind, our September Discussion Group addressing ‘Antibody Discovery, Optimisation & Engineering’ was a tremendous success. The discussion brought together an exclusive panel of key opinion leaders to address the key factors behind the market’s growth, its priorities, future outlook, and challenges.

Our September group came together for an hour of specialist discussion about the challenges and opportunities within antibody discovery and developability. The discussion kicked off with a presentation by Erik Vernet, Director of Antibody Technology at Novo Nordisk. This discussion group was a select group of approximately 15-20 key industry leaders working in antibody discovery and engineering, representing key opinion leaders from pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Panellists included William Olson (Senior Vice President of Therapeutic Proteins at Regeneron), Rick Davies (Senior Director of Chemical Biology and Protein Science at AstraZeneca), and Jonathan Davis (Vice President of Innovation & Strategy at Invenra). The session was attended by senior representatives from Pfizer, GSK, and Eli Lilly to Professors from renowned academic institutions such as Queen Mary University London and the University of Ottawa and many more. 

Erik Vernet kicked off the discussion with a 20-minute presentation focused on ‘Antibody Body Discovery at Novo Nordisk’. In this, Vernet showcased various company strategies to discover the optimal antibody to treat diseases such as diabetes and brain disorders, as well as the different platforms technologies commonly used in antibody discovery. The presentation also delved into future outlooks for the industry. Among its most interesting points was the presentation’s unique look at Novo Nordisk’s antibody R&D. In particular, Vernet spoke of exciting pipeline developments that include protein and peptide injectables and the much-awaited oral delivery of biologics, which he deemed “the Holy Grail of antibody discovery”. The presentation also touched on Novo Nordisk’s current RNA gene-editing programmes and the opportunity for expanding technological capacity through the implementation of automation in antibody discovery.  

After Erik’s presentation concluded, the debate began. William Olson opened the floor with a discussion covering discovery strategies in vivo and in vitro to emerging modalities. Antibody Discovery proved to be an exciting topic, with conversation centring on in vivo and in vitro discovery strategies. With recent advancements in antibody engineering technologies, techniques and methods, the market has seen an expansion. An interesting point raised was that market growth is primarily attributed to our better understanding of new modalities, more innovative ways of choosing targets and ensuring their quality. These include improved library repositories to mimic an in vivo library for either a naïve or immunise animal. However, challenges remain. For instance, Jonathan Davis of Inverna spoke of how “the translation of the in vivo models to humans is a huge problem”. He continued, “as we discover the subtle antibodies that are affecting, let’s say, the immune system, we notice how treatments that work in mice do not necessarily work in humans”. Because our immune systems are so different, this has a track record of having been “a big cause of failure” for Davis.  

The debate continued with the use of complementary platforms as a way to advance antibody development. Whilst Vernet spoke of the techniques’ ability to provide “complete coverage” for different applications, other attendees and speakers discussed the need to consider its practicality. Vernet explained that “because there are so many factors that go into making the right antibody for therapeutic application, it is beneficial to screen candidates in more than one way”. He identified Rotarian functionality, affinity, and cross-reactivity testing as possible complementary applications. Professor Stefan Dübel of the Technische Universität Braunschweig explained that employing simultaneous platforms is not always achievable or reliable. He elaborated, “our lab did try to implement various high throughput machinery to get a better antibody, but it failed”. Dübel also pointed out that successful optimisation is often “dependent on the evaluation of your target”. 

In response to the various hurdles posed by antibody optimisation, the discussion turned to future outlooks on engineering technologies and possibilities. Vernet opened the topic by mentioning Novo Nordisk’s adoption of automation and machine learning, introducing their Lab Droid, an intuitive, deep sequencing technology. He also reported that the industry “is working heavily with computational engineering and machine learning to achieve the best algorithms for antibody work”. Current trends include multi-parameter optimisation and automated workflows such as Hybridoma technology, which produces large numbers of identical antibodies. Panellist Rick Davis attested to the market demand for automation engineering, confirming, “right now we’re thinking a lot about how we can use machine learning to optimise sequences for antibodies”. He also added how at AstraZeneca, computerisation of “modulating properties and expression levels in recombinant systems” is fast becoming a growing priority.  

The discussion group concluded with some final thoughts on the future outlook of antibody discovery, optimisation and engineering. With ongoing research and development and numerous exciting pipelines emerging in the field, the future looks bright for the antibody industry. At Oxford Global, we couldn’t have been more pleased with the turnout for our first ever biologics discussion group. The conversation was engaging, the debate stimulating, and the industry insights invaluable. We will continue our monthly discussion group series next month when we will address Analytical Method Development for Biotherapeutics scheduled for 22nd October. Learn more about the Oxford Global discussion group series at our Oxford Global Events page.

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Discussion Group Report
Oxford Global’s Discussion Groups provide a focused networking opportunity for a handful of like-minded experts on a monthly basis. Our October Discussion Group addressing ‘Analytical Method Development for Biotherapeutics’ was a tremendous success. The discussion brought together an exclusive panel of key opinion leaders to address the key factors behind the market’s growth, its priorities, future outlook, and challenges.
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