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PORTO, Portugal & CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Aimed at creating an international footprint in antibody discovery services while speeding up the identification of antibodies to fight COVID-19, clinical research organizations (CROs) FairJourney Biologics (FJB) and Iontas have merged operations to provide their services toward defeating the pandemic.
In this age of coronavirus, the joint effort is expected to save time by enabling antibodies to be identified without the need for additional optimization, thereby reducing the risk of delays during development and manufacturing. Also, FairJourney and Iontas have vowed to continue collaborating toward a therapeutic to treat COVID-19 patients, doing their part to help end the pandemic.
The partnership has combined FairJourney’s antibody discovery libraries with Iontas’ proprietary mammalian display technology, along with its antibody discovery, engineering, characterization and manufacturing services—using both phage and mammalian display technologies and immune and naïve libraries—while both companies continue to operate from their labs in Portugal and the United Kingdom.
“We have a great understanding of Iontas’ reputation and service offering as a long-term competitor,” says Antonio Parada, CEO of FairJourney Biologics. “Following the collaboration agreement reached with Iontas earlier this year in relation to the coronavirus outbreak, it was evident that we shared the same values in offering premium service with innovative technologies, making Iontas a natural fit within the FairJourney Group.”
“This deal represents an important step in the continued growth and internationalization of FairJourney, and we look forward to working with Iontas as one team,” Parada adds.
FairJourney Biologics and Iontas were founded around the same time and have been competitors, “albeit with different objectives,” Parada tells DDN. “While Iontas focused on developing new technologies, FJB wanted to become a market leader with a proven technology—phage display.”
There have been discussions of a merger for a number of years, Prada notes, but until now, both companies had been too focused on achieving their own goals.
“FJB is now a market leader, developing more than 80 therapeutic candidates for Big Pharma and biotechs every year, and Iontas offers the next-generation antibody discovery technology,” Parada says. “In January 2020, FJB involved GHO Capital as private equity partner to re-start discussions, and the merger was finalized by May 2020.”
In April, FJB and Iontas started working on a COVID-19 project that combined not only FJB’s libraries and Iontas’ technology, but also SARS-CoV-2 immune donors from Portugal’s Instituto de Medicina Molecular.
“The motto was ‘If we can help, we must help’—irrespective of the financial outcome,” Parada says. “The project, with the aim to find antibodies as therapies for COVID-19, is currently ongoing.”
RNA from recovering patients, provided by the Instituto de Medicina Molecular, will be a key source of antibody genes used for the identification of target antibodies.
This combination will enable the newly created partnership to isolate highly specific, neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 antibodies displaying high affinity and preferential biophysical characteristics.
Maria Pajuelo, chief scientific officer of FairJourney Biologics, commented: “Given the current pandemic and our expertise in exploring the 1,400-plus immune libraries built at FairJourney, we felt compelled to engage in an antibody-based intervention for COVID-19.”
Several companies are already benefitting from the merger, but details cannot be disclosed, Parada says, adding: “Where Iontas’ expertise in developing antigens is coupled with FJB’s diverse immune approaches (five different species), the panels are selected, using mammalian display and lead clones which are produced at FJB.”
“Despite the fact that we are the leading CRO in antibody discovery, we are very small,” Parada points out. “Our effort is to give to the world a panel of antibodies that are developable and save months in discovery time. More importantly, we aim to offset the risk in clinical development. What the world decides to do with our panel will be part of a bigger discussion where we won’t be the only ones around the table.”
The next step is to focus on addressing clients’ needs rather than selling services, according to Parada. “Therefore, our combined operations will continue to evolve, and we will continue to identify areas where we can bring benefits and add value for both current and future clients,” he elaborates.
“I am excited and enthused by this fusion,” remarked John McCafferty, CEO of Iontas. “Iontas and FairJourney share the same core values, and even while we were competitors, there has always been a mutual respect between our two companies.
“I remain as committed as ever to ensuring the continuation and further development of the Iontas business. As a combined organization, we will be better able to continue providing our customers with premium antibody discovery services using our proprietary technology.”