Cambridge Independent 1 Feb 2021
PetMedix: Bringing antibody therapies to cats and dogs
by Mike Scialom
The partnership PetMedix announced with Boehringer Ingelheim earlier this month means that the Babraham Research Campus-based biotech company, freed from the constraints of having to develop a distribution operation, can now focus exclusively on science.
The bold dynamics enshrined in the multi-year arrangement will further develop novel and transformative animal antibody therapeutics – initially for cats and dogs – using PetMedix’s proprietary Ky9 platform.
It probably helps that Boehringer Ingelheim is the second largest animal health business in the world, with 2019 sales of £3.5bn and a presence in more than 150 countries.
“We are very, very good at antibody discovery,” says Jolyon Martin, co-founder and head of business development at PetMedix. “So we do that and hand it over, and they do the next phase. We don’t intend to have our own sales and marketing team.”
If 2021 has started well for PetMedix, 2020 was not too bad for its antibody therapeutics mission either. The life sciences start-up was founded in 2018, raised £8m in a Series A in 2019 and moved into BioMed@Babraham in April last year.
In May, it raised an equity investment from an enthusiastic Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC).
CIC partner Robert Tansley told the Cambridge Independent:
“The combination of the quality of PetMedix’s scientific team and its proprietary Ky9 antibody discovery platform means that PetMedix has the opportunity to become the leading antibody discovery and development company for animal health.”
Dr Tansley continued: “The ability to discover and develop cost-efficient highly potent species-specific antibody therapeutics opens many opportunities to bring best-in-class treatments to a range of poorly served conditions for companion animals.”
PetMedix is currently making progress with a Series B finance round. With the round due to close “late in Q1 or at the start of Q2”, Jolyon says 2021 will be a year of further scientific progress as PetMedix uses its Ky9 platform to develop antibody therapeutics in a time and cost-efficient manner.
James Allan, global head of transaction, business development and licensing, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, said: “Boehringer Ingelheim is pleased to be working with PetMedix on this cutting-edge technology as a means to bring innovative new therapies to improve the health of animals globally. PetMedix has a unique expertise and its focus on innovation aligns well with our own.”
The benefits of the collaboration will reach pets and their owners “in the next three to four years”, says Jolyon.
Both companies share similar philosophies, as outlined by a Boehringer Ingelheim statement, which said: “Respect for animals, humans and the environment is at the heart of what we do.
“We develop solutions and provide services to protect animals from disease and pain.
“We support our customers in taking care of the health of their animals and protect our communities against life- and society-threatening diseases.”
PetMedix co-founder and CEO Dr Tom Weaver added:
“We are excited to be working with Boehringer Ingelheim on this project as we feel we bring complementary experience and expertise to this partnership. PetMedix has developed the leading pet antibody discovery engine, and it will be through Boehringer Ingelheim’s global scale and industry leadership that these novel therapies will best be able to succeed and ultimately benefit animals and – by extension – their owners.”
When it comes to care of our beloved animal companions, treatments have been developed relatively slowly.
There are small molecule treatments available for pets, delivered via a tablet or meat-flavoured chew, but few antibody-based treatments.
PetMedix is the only company in the world to have ported successful, novel therapies for humans into the treatment of animals.
Initial targets include cancers, arthritis, inflammatory and skin conditions. These treatments, when they become available, will “most likely be an injection”, says Jolyon, whose PhD was the blueprint for the Ky9 platform.
The PhD was supervised by Prof Allan Bradley, the geneticist and Fellow of the Royal Society who founded Kymab in 2009. Kymab, which identified the potential of using mice to make human antibodies in 2009, this month became the 20th Cambridge company to be valued at more than $1billion, following its acquisition by Sanofi, the global pharma giant.
“Allan thought he could apply the model for pets and advertised for someone to develop the possibility,” says Jolyon of PetMedix’s origins.
“I applied for the role and started work on the project as a PhD in 2014, so PetMedix is essentially Kymab for pets. Allan was director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and had an academic lab there, and I was one of his first PhD students. At the first meeting he asked me whether I would like to start the company.”
Dr Weaver was the third of the trio to start work in 2018.
“At the time he’d just stepped down as CEO of Congenica,” says Jolyon, “and Tom and Allan knew each other because they both shared a mouse genomics specialisation. The first scientists came from Allan’s lab.”
There are now 25 scientists among the total of 33 people working at PetMedix, and if you are a bioinformatics or wetlab specialist you can go to their website and find out about new scientific roles.
There is going to be a lot of build-out required moving forward. Perhaps you might note that 17 of those 25 have a PhD, and the team comes from 12 different countries, but the important fact is that there is a lot of work to be done at the 12,500 sq ft facility at BioMed@Babraham.
“We need to build a custom platform for each species we work on,” explains Jolyon and, with 40 possible conditions eligible for treatment for any individual animal, it’s obvious this is the start-off point of a great adventure – not least for cats and dogs.