2013: First approved cancer treatment using antibody glycosylation (glycoMAb) – Gazyvaro

Nominated by: Swiss Biotech Association 

Organisations in nomination: Glycart Biotechnology (now Roche Glycart AG)

Pioneer in antibody glycosylation (glycoMAb) technology increasing immune-mediated killing of cancer cells leading to improved cancer medicines.

Antibodies are proteins that are part of the immune system that identify and neutralise foreign invaders in the body. During their production in cells, they undergo post-translational modification in creating the final antibody structure, commonly including the addition of glycans, known as antibody glycosylation.  These glycans play a significant role in antibody function and this can be used in the development of treatments that make use of the body’s own immune system.

Glycart Biotechnology, a Swiss biotechnology company and spin-off of ETH Zurich, developed glycoMAb, a technology which genetically engineers the antibody-producing cells with a gene encoding an oligosaccharide-modifying enzyme. The modified cells produce new molecular variants of the antibody, bearing bisected non-fucosylated oligosaccharides.  This was an advance over standard production cell lines, which do not make these special oligosaccharides.

The company successfully engineered antibody glycosylation to increase immune-mediated cancer cell killing, creating a potential cancer therapy.  After the company became part of Roche in 2005, the first drug using this technology was developed (obinutuzumab – Gazyva – Gazyvaro) to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), approved in 2013.   CLL is a cancer of B-lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell and is classed as a rare disease.  Following its approval for CLL, it later gained approval for relapsed/refractory and first line follicular non-Hodgkins lymphoma.