The Recombinant Antibody Network (RAN), a consortium comprising research groups from UC San Francisco (UCSF), the University of Chicago, and the University of Toronto have expanded a previous research collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb, aimed to create and develop high-performance recombinant antibodies against diverse targets in human cells.
The RAN was founded in 2012 by UChicago’s Anthony Kossiakoff, UCSF’s James Wells – who headed up the new agreement – and Sachdev Sidhu at the University of Toronto.
The three worked together at Genentech in the 1980s and 90s, where Kossiakoff was director of protein engineering. Much of the conceptual work was developed in the protein engineering department with the goal of addressing an unmet need for research tools and therapeutic antibody development. After Roche acquired Genentech, Kossiakoff left to join the University of Chicago as Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and where he is now the Otho S.A. Sprague Distinguished Service Professor.
“We’d all worked together for many years,” said Kossiakoff. “We knew the business of exploiting protein engineering to develop biologics as drugs pretty well. So, we started to think about how we could come back together as a team and interface with pharma to develop new types of biopharmaceuticals. Each of us had assembled technology platforms in our own academic labs that we knew could be easily repurposed and combined into a multipurpose drug discovery pipeline.”
After iterating various business models, and trying to form a consortium of pharma companies, ultimately, RAN established a relationship with Celgene. The model gave RAN freedom to research and develop therapeutic antibodies against oncology and immunology with Celgene retaining the option to license those antibodies to further develop and commercialize in-house.
This was the first industry partnership for the network, which has entered into a second agreement with Celgene, which is now owned by Bristol Myers Squibb.
“This agreement represents significant efficiency for RAN; allowing a large degree of academic freedom in pursuing novel science while having a path for later development and commercialization through Bristol Myers Squibb’s option for licensing,” said Kossiakoff.
The deal with Bristol Myers Squibb is unique and allows the researchers to expand their work in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without the partnerships, said Kossiakoff. “These projects involve both basic and applied research objectives, but there are limits to what we can do. This partnership allows us to focus on what we do best and we rely on BMS for the optimization and downstream development part, a division of labor that is really important to bring these things to fruition,” he added.
As one of the largest academic-industry partnerships, the collaboration provides an opportunity for potential sharing of research performed by both RAN scientists and Bristol Myers Squibb. RAN has published dozens of publications resulting from their new innovative science and discovery at all four institutions
“We have a number of basic research projects that involve technology development that’s going to allow us to ultimately make decisions faster based on more extensive data,” added Kossiakoff. “We focus on creating new technology and approaches, but they also have to be practical and robust enough to provide us a path to get from A to B faster and with a lot better information.