Biotech firm iBio (NYSEA:IBIO) has incorporated EngageTx, a machine learning-driven technology, into its development roadmap. This T-cell engaging antibody panel assists in generating bispecific antibodies targeting cancer cells. In particular, the firm is developing a novel Trophoblast Cell Surface Antigen 2 (TROP-2) bispecific molecule to target TROP-2-positive cancers. In addition to their focus on oncology, iBio is also exploring vaccine development.
A look at the rise of AI in oncology
As part of a broader trend, drug developers are employing machine learning in biotech to handle complex targets in areas like oncology, genomics, personalized medicine and rare diseases. In 2022, AI-employed companies had more than 150 small-molecule drugs in discovery and more than 15 in clinical trials, according to Boston Consulting Group. The group projected an almost 40% annual growth rate for the AI-fueled pipeline.
In a significant pivot, Bryan, Texas–headquartered iBio announced in November 2022 that it was divesting its contract development and manufacturing operations, aiming to reallocate the resulting savings to advance its AI-powered antibody discovery platform and immuno-oncology assets. As part of the transition, the company also said it would streamline its operations, cutting its workforce by about 60%, potentially halving its monthly burn rate. The restructuring underpins iBio’s faith in the potential of AI in immuno-oncology.
iBio’s interim CEO dishes on company’s focus on AI in oncology
To learn more about iBio’s AI focus, we spoke with interim CEO and chief scientific officer Martin Brenner. He opened up about the company’s plans for its bispecific TROP-2 candidate and the EngageTx panel. In addition, he discussed AI-guided epitope engineering, a technique involving designing or modifying protein regions (epitopes) recognized by the immune system. Brenner also shed light on how this approach contributes to iBio’s strategy and its increasing focus on AI.
“Early studies and data derived from our EngageTx panel highlight its potential across a variety of tumor targets and indications,” he said. “All T-cell engager arms within the EngageTx panel exhibit cross-reactivity with cynomolgus monkey T cells, thereby facilitating downstream toxicity studies.”
Used in preclinical studies, cynomolgus monkey T cells have a close genetic similarity to human cells, helping researchers predict how a given treatment could interact with human T cells.
iBio’s research operating plan for the TROP-2 bispecific molecule
To demonstrate the efficacy of its bispecific TROP-2 candidate in preclinical and clinical settings, iBio has developed a comprehensive research operating plan (ROP). “The ROP will stage-appropriately be further developed to include detailed clinical assessment of the molecule’s safety and efficacy,” Brenner said. “Upon successful completion of the preclinical studies, we anticipate advancing our candidate into rigorous clinical trials.”
In a SEC document, the company explained that the StableHu AI engine, combined with mammalian display technology, accelerates lead optimization.
Brenner noted that combining the EngageTx panel, AI-based epitope engineering, and the StableHu antibody optimizer has improved iBio’s AI platform for antibody discovery. “Our combined technologies have yielded remarkable results, including enhanced antibody specificity, affinity and functionality, which are critical factors for therapeutic success.”
Moving forward with challenging immuno-oncology targets
Since transitioning to an AI-driven biotech company, iBio has developed a portfolio comprising challenging immuno-oncology targets. Brenner is optimistic about the company’s progress. “Within this portfolio, several targets have progressed from conceptualization to in vivo testing, showcasing our initial yet promising strides,” he said.
Brenner acknowledged that iBio’s venture into the TROP-2 space with its bispecific TROP-2 candidate will involve both opportunities and challenges. But the company believes their bispecific approach can offer distinct advantages. “By employing EngageTx, our T-cell engager platform, we can finely adjust the balance between cell killing and cytokine release, providing greater control and potentially reducing the risk of adverse effects,” Brenner said.
The acquisition of RubrYc Therapeutics’ assets last year helped shape iBio’s transition metamorphosis, Brenner pointed out. “At the core of our technology stack lies the RubrYc AI platform, which has been instrumental in driving our transition into an AI-enabled biotech company,” he said. “We now stand as one of the leading precision AI antibody companies worldwide.”
Filed Under: clinical trials, Data science, Drug Discovery, machine learning and AI, Oncology