Like many of you we are always interested to learn about new technologies, especially potential new affinity reagents. Avacta Life Sciences recently announced the commercial launch of their Affimer technology and we were curious to learn more. Below is a brief Q&A that we did with Chris Miller, Commercial Manager at Avacta Life Sciences regarding their Affimer Technology.
Can you give us a brief background on what Affimers are?
Affimers are an engineered alternative to antibodies; they have been designed to address many of the issues currently experienced by life science researchers. Issues such as poor specificity, batch to batch variability, the long turnaround time it takes to generate new custom antibodies and limitations on target space.
We’ve heard about Affimers and aptamers is there a difference?
Yes, there are several differences, but I think the key advantage is that Affimers use a protein scaffold to present the interaction surface which increases stability and maintains confirmation – allowing the Affimers to be more specific than simple peptide aptamers.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of your company?
Avacta Life Sciences was set up in 2012 to develop and commercialise the Affimer IP that Avacta Group acquired from Leeds University, UK. Since then Avacta Life Sciences has recruited R&D and operational teams and facilities to provide custom Affimer services, generate a catalogue of Affimers and develop assay kits and microarrays using Affimers.
Can you give us a background on the development of your Affimer technology?
The Affimer intellectual property was developed over a dozen years by Dr Paul Ko Ferrigno, now CSO of Avacta Life Sciences, initially as part of his research at the MRC Cancer Centre in Cambridge, then latterly at the University of Leeds in the Institute for Molecular Medicine. Several patents were filed over this period protecting the Stefin A scaffold protein and Avacta Group acquired these patents early in 2012. Since then Paul continued his work in Avacta Life Sciences, and most recently Dr Matt Johnson joined from Abcam to head up the commercialization of Affimers and Affimer products.
What are the advantages of your Affimers compared to conventional antibodies?
As I’ve eluded to above the three key advantages are: Rapid discovery by in vitro screening, tailored specificity and affinity and security of supply – there is no batch to batch variability. Additionally, the Affimers are inherently stable, easily functionalized and by the time the customer has an Affimer in their hand they can be sure that it has been through a rigorous quality control process. When Affimers leave our facility, we will know that they work in ELISA, western blot and as reagents for affinity purification. Many of our prospective diagnostic and therapeutic customers will also be pleased to hear that the IP is unencumbered, so licensing is straightforward as licensing can be! Check out our FREE Introduction to Affimers Presentation for more detail.
What sort of antigens can you develop an Affimer against?
In theory, we are not limited to certain classes of target antigens because we use an in vitro screening process and not an immunization step. However, screens against small molecules might be less successful without considerable upfront effort. The other key advantage to in vitro selection is that we can screen against targets that are considered toxic – no fear of harming an immunized animal.
Can Affimers be used in the same applications as conventional antibodies?
Yes, they can! In fact for the most part, you can simply just replace your detection antibody with an Affimer. We are conscious of the fact that people have favorite detection methods and preferred chemistries, and have designed the Affimers to be used in a similar manner to antibodies. For more information and some sample data from multiple applications please check out our Affimers and Applications Info Pack. We will be regularly updating the website with new data and case studies as and when they become available, so you should check back often.
What sort of products / services are you offering?
Initially we are offering custom Affimer development and we are working on our own pipeline of reagents to generate a catalog of Affimers that we will be launching in the near future.
Can you describe the general process for making Affimers?
Once we receive the target antigen, we will perform an in vitro selection against one of our very large Affimer libraries. At the moment we have two options available, our 1010 phage display library or our 1013 cis-display library (cis-display is a proprietary screening technology licensed from Isogenica). Once screening is complete we will express the candidate binders and assess the specificity by ELISA or microarray using our in house capabilities. A selection of the best binders will be moved forward to the next step of the QC process which is affinity purification. Exogenous and endogenous western blots are then performed and the best candidates selected for shipping to the customer. The customer will receive a small amount of the top 3 Affimers for testing in their own lab, before deciding which is the Affimer they would like to be supplied for use. They can select either the Affimer that works best for them, more than one, or even request a ‘poly clonal’ mixture if they prefer. The whole process takes around seven weeks.
How does the cost to develop an Affimer compare with developing conventional antibodies?
The total cost for developing a custom Affimer will vary depending on exactly what selection criteria are applied, however, it is likely to be slightly more expensive than a mouse monoclonal and on a par with a rabbit monoclonal. I would also like to take the opportunity to make your academic readers aware that we are open to collaborative projects which might mitigate the cost to some extent and happy to discuss these on a case by case basis.
If someone was interested in developing a custom Affimer what’s the best way to get in touch with you?
If someone is interested in developing a custom Affimer they can contact me directly via phone at +44 (0)844 963 2960, email firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Avacta website www.avactalifesciences.com.