US pet therapeutics start-up Vetigenics is seeing increased interest from potential collaborators in its Canibody. Adriann Sax, the co-founder and chief executive of the Philadelphia-based company, recently revealed the company’s progress to S&P Global’s head of animal health Joseph Harvey.
In late 2022, Vetigenics secured its second discovery partner for its companion animal therapeutic antibody platform. With an existing agreement with Merck Animal Health, the company now boasts two strategic animal health collaborators and aims to expand its network further.
Adriann Sax said Vetigenics is currently engaged in discussions with additional potential partners. While the company’s primary focus lies in canine oncology, these prospective collaborators are keen on exploring opportunities beyond cancer therapy. Ms Sax noted the interest from new partners, coupled with Merck’s decision to broaden its agreement with Vetigenics to include additional programs, serves as validation for the company’s technology platform.
Founded in 2017, Vetigenics holds exclusive access to the Canibody platform developed by University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Don Siegel, who is also a Vetigenics co-founder. The platform holds entirely canine single-chain fragment variable (scFv) phage display libraries. Vetigenics claims it is the only technology containing an estimated 40 billion independent scFvs found in actual dogs.
The company leverages this technology for its own pipeline of candidates. Its most advanced programs are in development to treat canine cancer – VGS-001 (an anti-cCTLA-4 monoclonal antibody) and VGS-001 (an anti-cPD-1 monoclonal antibody). Both of these candidates are currently undergoing clinical trials. Ms Sax pointed out the company’s platform has also demonstrated its potential to generate antibodies for addressing other areas of pet health, such as dermatology, pain and neurology.
Vetigenics is in the early stages of developing projects targeting autoimmune diseases, weight loss and other “smaller disease areas” that present significant unmet needs in the companion animal space. The company aims to release data on these non-oncology areas “over the coming months” and seeks additional animal health partners to facilitate the commercialization of its pipeline.
Ms Sax stated: “We’ve consulted with veterinary colleagues to understand their needs. We deliberately steer away from certain mass markets, such as pain, when it comes to our internal pipeline. We constantly review the literature on human health to identify emerging antibody therapeutics and assess their applicability to pets.
“The unique aspect of our technology is the vast size of our library. If we venture into a competitive field, we can generate exclusive antibody sequences for patented targets. Our library represents the entire antibody repertoire of dogs, allowing us to generate new intellectual property in areas already covered by existing patents. We can also apply this approach to novel targets, exploring alternative pathways and treatment strategies. The rapid antibody generation process enables companies to collaborate with us and obtain several candidates ready for canine trials in as little as a few months.”
Speed and cost are key
Ms Sax compared the use of Vetigenics’ library to “panning for gold”, emphasizing the continuous refinement of screening techniques to identify unique antibodies with superior characteristics.
Naturally occurring antibodies, speed and cost efficiency are key factors that differentiate Vetigenics’ technology platform from competitors in the growing market of therapeutic antibodies in animal health, according to Ms Sax. While many companies can produce potent antibodies, Vetigenics’ believes its ability to produce entirely canine antibodies quickly and at a lower cost sets it apart.
The firm is employing its discovery library to pursue various therapeutic formats that represent emerging product categories in animal health, including monoclonal antibodies, bi- and multi-specific antibodies, CAR-T therapies and mRNA products. Ms Sax highlighted Zoetis’ Cytopoint as an innovative example that has successfully met the criteria of addressing unmet needs, improving patient compliance and offering a tolerable price point for pet owners.
She stated: “We anticipate significant adoption of next-generation, innovative products by major players in animal health over the next decade, and it is Vetigenics’ intention to support them in generating candidates during this R&D evolution.”
To support its development efforts, Vetigenics has maintained a longstanding collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The company was originally founded to produce research antibodies for comparative oncology, studying naturally occurring cancers in animals as models for human diseases. Vetigenics has received support from two NCI grants, totaling $2.3 million. The partners will soon embark on a project to evaluate Vetigenics’ VGS-001 for use in comparative clinical trials.
Ms Sax confirmed the NCI grant funding will sustain Vetigenics until the end of this year. In order to further fuel its development work, the start-up is currently initiating its first funding round – aiming to secure $15-20 million in series A investment.
Clinical trials of VGS-001 in late-stage canine oral melanoma and VGS-002 in canine bladder cancer are already fully funded. Data from these studies is expected to be available by the end of this year or early 2024. The series A funding will facilitate the progression of these programs into pivotal studies and advance the company’s earlier-stage candidates. Vetigenics currently generates revenue through milestones and royalties associated with its partnership agreements.
While seeking investment during the current global economic situation poses challenges for an animal health start-up, Ms Sax remains optimistic about Vetigenics’ prospects.
She commented: “It is undoubtedly challenging. Our lead program focuses on cancer, which has its own obstacles. However, we possess remarkable scientific capabilities and our technology has versatile applications across different areas. We have attracted interest from several investors. It’s just a matter of finding a strong lead investor with a deep understanding of the animal health sector and the value of our work to drive the funding forward.”
Analyst Contact Details: Joseph Harvey