Etcembly, a U.K. biotech, has developed a new immunotherapy to target hard-to-treat cancers using generative artificial intelligence (AI) similar to that used to create ChatGPT.
According to the company, this is the first time a candidate immunotherapy has been designed by generative AI.
The new therapeutic candidate is a bispecific T cell engager, designed to target PRAME (preferentially expressed antigen of melanoma), which is a protein found in a lot of cancers but not in healthy tissue. Bispecific T cell engagers are created by linking the targeting areas of two antibodies. One part of the fused antibodies targets T killer cells and the other part targets tumor proteins such as PRAME.
Etcembly have developed their candidate therapy in 11 months, which is much faster than the usual minimum time of two years to discover and optimize T cell receptor (TCR) therapies. During this time the company were also developing their platform, as the company was only founded in 2020, so future attempts should be even faster.
The company has developed an AI “engine” or supercomputer known as EMLy that can use generative large language models to predict, design and test new TCR candidate therapies. This process does not eliminate the human trials part of drug development, but speeds up initial therapy design and should help to reduce the chances of later trial failure by reducing the chances of off-target adverse effects.
The team now plans to start testing their candidate therapy—currently known as ETC-101— in the lab and hopes to enter human trials in 2025. They also plan to develop other cancer immunotherapies and also to target autoimmune conditions such as arthritis in the future.
“Etcembly was born from our desire to bring together two concepts that are ahead of the scientific mainstream—TCRs and generative AI—to design the next generation of immunotherapies. It’s a real testament to the tenacity of our team and our technology that we’ve generated a robust pipeline with first-in-class applications within a few years, and I’m excited to take these assets forward so we can make the future of TCR therapeutics a reality and bring transformative treatments to patients,” said Etcembly co-founder and CEO Michelle Teng in a press statement.