Simon Moroney runs an amazing library, although the New Zealand-born chemical engineer doesn't work with books. As CEO of the German biotech firm MorphoSys, he is master of an archive, HuCAL (Human Combinatorial Antibody Library), that consists of some 12 billion human antibodies — the proteins that white blood cells use to fight disease. It forms the basis for a new type of medicine targeting autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Instead of containing complete volumes of the Y-shaped immunoglobulins, HuCAL has the building blocks — 49 variant basic units that comprise all these proteins — plus the countless CDRs (Complementarity Determining Regions) that decide their specificity. Phages, viruses that infect bacteria but are harmless to humans, taxi the structure to the target, a cancer cell, say. Once there, it will either dock — a match — or not.
The advantage of this ingenious, Lego-like assembly-kit method: developers can speedily and systematically match an antibody to a given antigen and then reproduce it. Therapeutic antibodies are hot, and MorphoSys has research deals with the top folk in the sector. Some 15 drugs, Moroney hopes, will soon be ready to enter the market. MorphoSys also has some of its own in the pipeline: MOR103, which animal tests have shown works well against rheumatoid arthritis, and MOR202, which offers great promise in fighting multiple myeloma.