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Main research areas

MorphoSys is constantly striving to improve its drug development capabilities, to consolidate its disease expertise and to strengthen the company’s technology suite. The company’s proprietary drug development activities currently focus on cancer, both hematological malignancies and solid tumors, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

Cancer

The oncology market includes a large number of heterogeneous indications demonstrating a wide range of unmet medical needs and incidence rates. Standard treatments for the various forms of cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone treatment. However, new biological products hold the most promise for changing treatment paradigms. Drugs such as therapeutic antibodies allow for highly specific targeting of cancer cells or signaling molecules in order to reduce unwanted side effects.

MorphoSys is currently developing three proprietary cancer compounds in clinical trials.

MOR202, a fully human HuCAL-based antibody against CD38, a therapeutic target for the treatment of multiple myeloma and potentially certain leukemias.

The second proprietary development program MorphoSys is pursuing in this area is MOR208 (XmAb®5574). The antibody, which targets CD19, is being developed for the treatment of B cell malignancies.

MorphoSys´s most recent cancer antibody is MOR209/ES414, a bispecific anti-PSMA/anti-CD3 antibody against prostate cancer.

Immuno-oncology: a new paradigm in the fight against cancer

Immuno-oncology is currently one of the most exciting areas of research in the biopharmaceutical industry. With the development of therapies that modulate the immune system´s natural ability to fight tumors, researchers are striving to reach a major breakthrough that will overcome the shortcomings of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Antibody-based immuno-oncologic therapies are a particularly promising approach with the potential to provide durable anti-tumor effects for a broad range of cancer patients. 

Modern immune therapies seek to enhance the immune response against the tumor and block evasion strategies of cancer cells. Multiple development steps are needed to generate potent anti-tumor immune responses. MorphoSys uses its proprietary Ylanthia antibody library and other technology platforms to generate antibodies that target specific immune checkpoints.

MorphoSys has already worked on a range of immune checkpoint targets, in partnered programs and on its own account, and is actively seeking to further expand this field of research. One of the programs applying MorphoSys’s knowledge and technologies in the area of immuno-oncology is Pfizer’s Utomilumab (PF-05082566) program. The compound is directed against the target molecule 4-1BB that occurs on T cells and is currently being evaluated in clinical trials. 

In May 2014, MorphoSys and the German pharmaceutical group Merck KGaA, Darmstadt forged an alliance to identify and develop therapeutic antibodies against target molecules of the class of immune checkpoints. Ylanthia, MorphoSys´s next-generation antibody technology, is used within the agreement for the rapid identification of inhibitors against immune checkpoints.

Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases

Both autoimmune and inflammatory diseases arise through uncharacteristic reactions of the human immune system. In autoimmunity, the patient´s immune system is activated against the body´s own proteins. In chronic inflammatory diseases, neutrophils and other leukocytes are constitutively recruited by cytokines and chemokines, leading to tissue damage. Inflammatory disorders include conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis (MS), asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease. Around 1% of the global population is thought to be affected by rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it the largest single market in the area of inflammatory diseases. Additionally, certain bone-related indications involve inflammatory processes. Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases represent a major pharmaceutical market with many millions of patients being affected. 

MorphoSys’s most advanced compound, MOR103, is a fully human HuCAL-based antibody directed against GM-CSF, a therapeutic target for the treatment of various inflammatory disorders. MOR103 has concluded a clinical phase 1b/2a trial in rheumatoid arthritis patients and a phase 1b trial in MS and is being further developed by MorphoSys’s pharmaceutical partner GlaxoSmithKline.

Antibodies that target GPCRs

The G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) superfamily is the largest and single most important family of drug targets (~800 members) in the human body. These proteins are active in just about every organ system and present a wide range of opportunities as therapeutic targets in areas including cancer, cardiac dysfunction, diabetes, central nervous system disorders, obesity, inflammation and pain. Over 300 family members are considered as relevant targets for drug discovery. However, due to technical challenges in targeting the very small, partially hidden extracellular protein region which is accessible to antibodies, GPCRs have been largely intractable to therapeutic antibody development so far.

MorphoSys combines its expertise and techniques to drive antibodies to the small extracellular GPCR surface. The Company utilizes Heptares Therapeutics’ unique antigen platform StaR® for the discovery and its proprietary Ylanthia library for the further development of therapeutic antibodies that target GPCRs. We have successfully applied our comprehensive portfolio to generate specific and functionally active antibodies against GPCRs in several projects. Through co-discovery and co-development alliances, we are also offering pharmaceutical partners access to these technologies. 

Lanthipeptides

Peptides are an increasingly important class of drug. As natural ligands to many targets, they can combine agonistic or antagonistic activity with low toxicity risk and can be applied to disease targets, where small molecules or antibody-based drugs cannot be used.
Through a technology alliance with Lanthio Pharma, MorphoSys has entered the field of therapeutic peptides some years ago. The novel, modified lanthipeptides make it possible to discover highly target-selective peptides, which only bind and activate one specific target subtype. They are also more stable than linear wild-type peptides making them potent drug candidates against serious diseases such as fibrosis or multiple sclerosis.

The complete acquisition of Lanthio Pharma in May 2015 enabled MorphoSys’s scientists to deepen their expertise in the area of therapeutic peptides and to develop the exciting lanthipeptides further, most notably the preclinical candidate MOR107 (formerly LP2).