Discovery of therapeutic antibodies is a field of intense development, where immunization of rodents remains a major source of antibody candidates. However, high orthologue protein sequence homology between human and rodent species disfavors generation of antibodies against functionally conserved binding epitopes. Chickens are phylogenetically distant from mammals. Since chickens generate antibodies from a restricted set of germline genes, the possibility of adapting the Symplex antibody discovery platform to chicken immunoglobulin genes and combining it with high-throughput humanization of antibody frameworks by "mass complementarity-determining region grafting" was explored. Hence, wild type chickens were immunized with an immune checkpoint inhibitor programmed cell death 1 (PD1) antigen, and a repertoire of 144 antibodies was generated. The PD1 antibody repertoire was successfully humanized, and we found that most humanized antibodies retained affinity largely similar to that of the parental chicken antibodies. The lead antibody Sym021 blocked PD-L1 and PD-L2 ligand binding, resulting in elevated T-cell cytokine production in vitro. Detailed epitope mapping showed that the epitope recognized by Sym021 was unique compared to the clinically approved PD1 antibodies pembrolizumab and nivolumab. Moreover, Sym021 bound human PD1 with a stronger affinity (30 pM) compared to nivolumab and pembrolizumab, while also cross-reacting with cynomolgus and mouse PD1. This enabled direct testing of Sym021 in the syngeneic mouse in vivo cancer models and evaluation of preclinical toxicology in cynomolgus monkeys. Preclinical in vivo evaluation in various murine and human tumor models demonstrated a pronounced anti-tumor effect of Sym021, supporting its current evaluation in a Phase 1 clinical trial. Abbreviations: ADCC, antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity; CD, cluster of differentiation; CDC, complement-dependent cytotoxicity; CDR, complementarity determining region; DC, dendritic cell; ELISA, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay; FACS, fluorescence activated cell sorting; FR, framework region; GM-CSF, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor; HRP, horseradish peroxidase; IgG, immunoglobulin G; IL, interleukin; IFN, interferon; mAb, monoclonal antibody; MLR, mixed lymphocyte reaction; NK, natural killer; PBMC, peripheral blood mono-nuclear cell; PD1, programmed cell death 1; PDL1, programmed cell death ligand 1; RT-PCR, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction; SEB, Staphylococcus Enterotoxin B; SPR, surface Plasmon Resonance; VL, variable part of light chain; VH, variable part of heavy chain.
Keywords: Chicken antibodies; PD1; antibody repertoire diversity; immune-oncology.