Immunology Innovation Program
Our IIP is a core business strategy of co-creation and innovation. The IIP also serves as our discovery engine to identify novel targets and together, in collaboration with our scientific and academic partners, to build potential new pipeline candidates. The IIP has been foundational in building our pipeline, and every current pipeline candidate from both our wholly-owned and partnered pipeline emerged from an IIP collaboration. As part of our long-term strategy, we have committed to continued investment in the IIP.
Our Suite of Technologies
Through our IIP, we collaborate with scientific and academic partners to identify immunology breakthroughs and build potential pipeline candidates. This is done through co-creation where we bring to the collaboration our unique suite of antibody engineering technologies and experience in clinical development and our partners bring a wealth of disease and target biology expertise.
Together with our antibody discovery and development expertise, this suite of technologies has enabled us to build our broad pipeline of products and product candidates, across all stages of development and we believe will ensure continuous development of innovative and relevant programs. Our key technologies are outlined below:
Antibody Engineering and Other Technology Capabilities
Our Proprietary SIMPLE Antibody Platform
Our proprietary SIMPLE Antibody platform sources V-regions from conventional antibodies existing in the immune system of outbred llamas. Outbred llamas are those that have been bred from genetically diverse parents, and each has a different genetic background. The llama produces highly diverse panels of antibodies with a high human homology in their V-regions when immunized with human disease targets. We then combine these llama V-regions with Fc regions of fully human antibodies, resulting in antibodies that we then produce in industry-validated production cell lines. The resulting antibodies are diverse and, due to their similarity to human antibodies, we believe they are well suited to human therapeutic use. With this breadth of antibodies, we are able to test many different epitopes. Being able to test many different epitopes with our antibodies enables us to search for an optimized combination of safety, potency and species cross-reactivity with the potential for maximum therapeutic effect on disease. These antibodies are often cross-reactive with the rodent version of chosen disease targets. This rodent cross-reactivity enables more efficient preclinical development of our product candidates because most animal efficacy models are rodent-based. By contrast, most other antibody discovery platforms start with antibodies generated in inbred mice or synthetic antibody libraries, approaches that we believe are limited by insufficient antibody repertoires and limited diversity, respectively. Our SIMPLE Antibody platform allows us to access and explore a broad target universe, including novel and complex targets, while minimizing the long timelines associated with generating antibody candidates using traditional methods.
Our Fc Engineering Technologies
Our antibody engineering technologies – NHance, ABDEG, POTELLIGENT and DHS mutations – focus on engineering the Fc region of antibodies in order to augment their interactions with components of the immune system, thereby potentially expanding the therapeutic index of our product candidates by modifying their half-life, tissue penetration, rate of disease target clearance and potency. In addition, we obtained a non-exclusive research license and option for the SMART-Ig and ACT-Ig technologies. For example, our NHance and ABDEG engineering technologies enable us to modulate the interaction of the Fc region with FcRn, which is responsible for regulating half-life, tissue distribution and PD properties of IgG antibodies. Similarly, the POTELLIGENT engineering technology modulates the interaction of the antibody Fc region with receptors located on specialized immune cells known as natural killer (NK) cells. These NK cells can destroy the target cell, resulting in enhanced antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). NHance and ABDEG: Modulation of Fc Interaction with FcRn.
An illustration of the FcRn-mediated antibody recycling mechanism is shown in figure 6.  Serum proteins, including IgG antibodies, are routinely removed from the circulation by cell uptake.  Antibodies can bind to FcRn, which serves as a dedicated recycling receptor in the endosomes, which have an acidic environment, and then [3A] return to the circulation by binding with their Fc region to FcRn. [3B] Unbound antibodies end up in the lysosomes and are degraded by enzymes. Because this Fc/FcRn interaction is highly pH-dependent, antibodies tightly bind to FcRn at acidic pH (pH 6.0) in the endosomes but release again at neutral pH (pH 7. 4) in the circulation.
NHance refers to two mutations that we introduce into the Fc region of an IgG antibody. NHance is designed to extend antibody serum half-life and increase tissue penetration. In certain cases, it is advantageous to engineer antibodies that remain in the circulation longer, allowing them to potentially exert a greater therapeutic effect or be dosed less frequently. As shown in figure 7,  NHance antibodies bind to FcRn with higher affinity, specifically under acidic pH conditions.  Due to these tighter bonds, NHance FcRn-mediated antibody recycling is strongly favored over lysosomal degradation, although some degradation does occur.  NHance allows a greater proportion of antibodies to return to the circulation potentially resulting in increased bioavailability and reduced dosing frequency. ARGX-109, ARGX-111, ARGX-117 and a number of our discovery-stage programs utilize NHance.
ABDEG refers to five mutations that we introduce in the Fc region that increase its affinity for FcRn at both neutral and acidic pH. In contrast to NHance, ABDEG-modified Fc regions remain bound to FcRn if the pH changes, occupying FcRn with such high affinity that they deprive endogenous IgG antibodies of their recycling mechanism, leading to enhanced clearance of such antibodies by the lysosomes. Some diseases mediated by IgG antibodies are directed against self-antigens. These self-directed antibodies are referred to as autoantibodies. We use our ABDEG technology to reduce the level of these pathogenic autoantibodies in the circulation by increasing the rate at which they are cleared by the lysosomes. ABDEG is a component in a number of our products and product candidates, including efgartigimod.
As shown in figure 8, our ABDEG technology can also be used with our pH-dependent SIMPLE Antibodies in a mechanism referred to as sweeping. Certain SIMPLE Antibodies bind to their target in a pH-dependent manner. These antibodies  bind tightly to a target at neutral pH while in circulation, and  release the target at acidic pH in the endosome.  The unbound target is degraded in the lysosome.  However, when equipped with our ABDEG technology, the therapeutic antibodies remain tightly bound to FcRn at all pH levels and are not degraded themselves. Instead, they are returned to the circulation where they can bind new targets. We believe this is especially useful in situations where high levels of the target are circulating or where the target needs to be cleared very quickly from the system.
POTELLIGENT modulates the interaction of the Fc region with the Fc gamma receptor IIIa located on specialized immune cells, known as NK cells. These NK cells can destroy the target cell, resulting in enhanced ADCC. POTELLIGENT changes the Fc structure by excluding a particular sugar unit such that it enables a tighter fit with the Fc gamma receptor IIIa. The strength of this interaction is a key factor in determining the killing potential of NK cells. An independent publication reported that the exclusion of this sugar unit of the Fc region increases the ADCC-mediated cell-killing potential of antibodies by 10- to 1000-fold. Cusatuzumab and ARGX-111 utilize POTELLIGENT (source: Expert Opin Biol Ther 2006; 6:1161–1173;).
Chugai and Clayton
In 2020, we entered into a research license and option agreement with Chugai under which we may access Chugai’s SMART-Ig (“Recycling Antibody” and part of “Sweeping Antibody” technology) and ACT-Ig (Antibody half-life extending technology). In 2020, we also entered into a non-exclusive research agreement with the Clayton Foundation under which we may access the Clayton Foundation’s proprietary DHS mutations to extend the serum half-life of therapeutic antibodies.
SC Drug Delivery Technologies
We have exclusive access to Halozyme’s ENHANZE® SC drug delivery technology for the FcRn and C2 targets and four additional targets. The ENHANZE® has the potential to shorten drug administration time, reduce healthcare practitioner time, and offer additional flexibility and convenience for patients.
In addition, in April 2021, we entered into a collaboration and license agreement with Elektrofi to explore new SC formulations utilizing Elektrofi’s small volume injection technology for efgartigimod, and up to one additional target.
For more information on our collaborations, see section “Collaboration Agreements”.
Other IIP Programs
In January 2022, we announced that ARGX-119 is an antibody that targets MuSK, a protein located at the neuromuscular junction, in an agonistic or activating manner. We intend to develop ARGX-119 in a range of neuromuscular diseases, potentially including congenital MG, a rare hereditary subtype of MG, MuSK-associated MG, a rare autoimmune subtype of MG, spinal muscular atrophy and ALS, both rare, severe neuromuscular indications.
Phase 1 dose-escalation clinical trial in healthy volunteers started in the first quarter of 2023, with a subsequent Phase 1b clinical trial to assess early signal detection in patients thereafter.
We have exercised our option to exclusively acquire rights to ARGX-118, a highly differentiated antibody against Galectin-10, the protein of Charcot-Leyden crystals, which are implicated as a major contributor to severe asthma and to the persistence of mucus plugs.
argenx and VIB vzw (VIB) continue to pursue pre-clinical development of the program under the collaboration.
Other Partnered Programs
See sections “Collaboration Agreements” and “License Agreements” for a description of collaboration and license agreements that we have entered into to further leverage our IIP.