2014: Checkpoint inhibitor innovation as key part of cancer immunotherapy

Nominated by: UK BioIndustry Association 

Organisation in nomination: LifeArc   

(From 2004) US Biotech company Organon’s scientists focused on the discovery of antibodies as therapeutics and partnered with the UK’s Medical Research Council Technology (which became LifeArc) to successfully humanise the antibody.

In 2007, LifeArc entered a collaboration with Organon –who were ultimately acquired by Merck – to translate innovative drug targets into potent and selective therapeutic antibody candidates that could be progressed into pre-clinical and clinical studies. LifeArc was selected to use CDR grafting technology to generate a humanised clinical candidate from a murine (mouse) antibody from Organon’s research.

LifeArc’s antibody engineering team advanced the candidates supplied and carried out humanisation. The humanisation process changes portions of the original mouse antibody into sequences that more closely resemble those of a human antibody. This vital step in developing a therapeutic antibody reduces the chance that the antibody will be recognised as ‘foreign’ when it is administered to the patient, and so attacked by the patient’s own immune system. One of the candidates developed in this partnership became Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

Keytruda, which is an immunotherapy licensed in a number of cancer types including melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer and classical Hodgkin lymphoma is available in 85 counties and is expected to be the world’s best selling drug by annual revenue in 2023 bringing in $22.2billion by 2025.

Keytruda received its first approval in 2014 for advanced melanoma.



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