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Synaffix patents
case 30 May 2016

Magic bullets against tumors: decorating on molecular scale

'A top molecule' is how Sander van Berkel describes the discovery of BCN, made in 2010 at Radboud University in Nijmegen. Now this molecule is the basis for Synaffix, a young biotech company in Oss. "The most important thing that we do is trying to bring a cure for cancer a step closer."

As the 'Connect to Cure' part of the company name reveals, Synaffix specifically focuses on the connection between drug and antibody. While Van Berkel draws the process by which that connection is achieved on a piece of paper. Van de Sande points from his office to a tall tree outside on Pivot Park in Oss where Synaffix is based. "Remember, what Sander’s drawing is not to scale. If the antibody is as big as that tree over there, we can pass through all the waving branches and attach a birdhouse to a specific branch high up in the tree. What we do is ‘state of the art’ decoration, but then on a molecular scale."

What did you actually have in 2010 when you thought of the possibility of building up a business?

Van Berkel: "The basis of Synaffix is bicyclononyne, or BCN for short. This is a molecule with fantastic properties: it can react very selectively, without adding a catalyst, with azide-containing molecules in any desired medium. These reactions take place very fast, without creating waste products and are very popular among people who work with biological systems. As researchers at Radboud University, Floris van Delft (co-founder and current Chief Scientific Officer of Synaffix, ed.) and I spent a long time working with these kinds of molecules, which finally resulted in BCN. Because it seemed to work so well and because the synthesis is so simple, we had an invention which we felt we could commercialise."

Van de Sande: "The field of click chemistry was growing exponentially in those early days and that formed the basis for the initial business model. We sold our molecules, which we had just patented (see box, ed.), on a small scale to various parties who used them for research purposes. However, we realised that this wasn’t the way to get maximum value from our technology. After an in-depth market survey, we decided to focus mainly on high quality applications of our molecules in complex biomolecules, particularly in the field of ADCs for specific cancer therapies. In this application, the advantages offered by our technology come into their own."

What advantages does it offer patients?

Van de Sande: "Our technology hasn’t been tested on people yet. All the data we have are based on animal models. We usually compare Synaffix ADCs with the two ADCs which are now on the market. So we use the same antibodies and the same payloads, but then connected via our own technology. The results which we’ve produced so far show that Synaffix ADCs are more effective than the market products and that the harmful side effects are considerably less. But remember: at the moment these results only apply to this particular animal model and for the tumour material used. So it may be different in cancer patients. We therefore remain cautious, but on the other hand, all the test results we have so far indicate that our technology really gives better safety and effectiveness."

How does Synaffix protect the patent portfolio in practice?

Van de Sande: "Very simple: without patents, there’s no Synaffix. The patent portfolio is clearly one of the reasons why the company exists. To start with, in our sector you have to attract investors. Furthermore, you need a well organised IP portfolio before you can launch anything on the market. In recent years, we’ve therefore devoted a lot time and energy to building up our IP portfolio. We now have a very complete portfolio of fifteen patents including pending applications, which is quite a lot for a young company like Synaffix. We now have such a strong position that we aren’t dependent on one single patent and others not in the same field as us can be active without taking a licence on our technology."

Article 'State of the art decoration on molecular scale'
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