When Vancouver, B.C.'s Zymeworks Inc. opened its doors in 2003, the biotherapeutics company was determined to address a need in the pharmaceutical and chemical markets that was not being served by the existing approaches to protein simulation and engineering. Committed to developing best-in-class antibody and protein therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, Zymeworks set out to create a platform that was commercially relevant and that reflected the most recent advances in protein biochemistry and computing architecture.
To meet their ambitious goals, Zymeworks engaged the National Research Council (NRC) in 2009, in order to benefit from NRC's world-class capabilities in biologics. NRC's resources proved to be the perfect complement to Zymeworks' internal expertise in computerized protein engineering; together, they have engineered and validated a molecular simulations platform that unites advances in protein biochemistry with high-performance computing. This platform rapidly and accurately simulates the outcome of protein engineering, significantly reducing test times during development.
An evolving science, a progressive partnership
Over time, NRC has completed several technical agreements to deliver more than 10,000 virtually designed proteins using Zymeworks' ZymeCAD™ platform. The work also included the development of the company's Azymetric™ platform (for bi-specific antibodies) and the AlbuCORE™ platform (for multi-valent antibodies). In 2013, the NRC-Zymeworks collaboration progressed from validating the company's platform to designing a pipeline of proprietary antibody candidates.
As a result of this partnership, Zymeworks has evolved from a software and design company to become a strong global competitor in biotherapeutics development. Zymeworks has earned numerous innovation and life-science awards, secured multinational collaborations (including Merck, Eli Lilly and most recently Celgene), attracted more than $50M in financing, developed ground breaking protein therapeutics and expanded their Canadian team.
Developing a new weapon in the fight against cancer
After five years of success, NRC and Zymeworks renewed their commitment in March 2014 by signing a three-year strategic collaboration to develop biotherapeutics. The multi-million dollar agreement will focus on discovering and advancing groundbreaking therapies for the fight against cancer, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Working closely together, the partners will contribute to de-risking and accelerating the therapeutics development cycle, particularly for treating solid tumours and haematological diseases. At the same time, they will minimize costs and aim to design better molecules with higher success rates at various stages of development and approval. NRC is able to customize characterization and analytical methods to meet Zymeworks' needs and greatly accelerate the company's therapeutics and platform developments.
"The National Research Council plays an important role in Zymeworks' continued development of best-in-class biotherapeutics and technology platforms," says Dr. Ali Tehrani, President and CEO of Zymeworks. "By putting this collaborative agreement in place where all facets of innovation, intellectual property, and risk-sharing are managed, we are looking forward to building on our existing relationship and quickly advancing groundbreaking therapies to the clinic and ultimately to patients with unmet medical needs."
Targeting accelerated commercialization of products for treating cancer, inflammation and autoimmune diseases, the partners will develop a number of lead biotherapeutics candidates, with the goal of attaining Investigational New Drug (IND) status for each of them over the course of the next three years.
In addition to pursuing crucial advances for medical patients, the NRC–Zymeworks agreement represents a significant step toward maximizing the impact of Canada's biotechnology sector. It will strengthen Zymeworks' position as a global competitor in biotherapeutics development and reinforce the nation's commitment to research and development.
"This collaboration with NRC should serve as a template for pan-Canadian initiatives," says Tehrani. "(In Canada), we have wonderful researchers, we have wonderful institutions… On behalf of the entire Zymeworks team, we are delighted to let everybody know what a fantastic group exists at NRC and what a world-class group of researchers and infrastructure exists at NRC… We have tremendously benefited from what NRC has to offer, and I am extremely confident about what we’re about to do together – and that is the development of best-in-class biologics to treat cancer patients, not only here in Canada but also globally. NRC is a fantastic trendsetter. This is the place to be, this is the group to do your research with."