Novartis strikes stem cell deal to aid transplant patients

Swiss drugmaker Novartis ($NVS) said Friday that it has teamed up with small biotech outfit Regenerex, gaining access to stem cell technology designed to benefit organ transplant patients.

Timothy Wright, head of development at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement that the license agreement and research collaboration supports Novartis' leadership position in cell therapy. Novartis first delved into the transplant arena 30 years ago when it developed ciclosporin, an immunosuppressant drug widely used in organ transplantation to prevent rejection.

Currently, solid organ transplant recipients must take immunosuppressive drugs for life to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ or organs. The Louisville, KY-based company's Facilitating Cell Therapy (FCRx) platform, which has been tested in kidney transplant patients to induce stable immunological tolerance, aims to eliminate the need for patients to take anti-rejection medicine for life. In a Phase II study of 15 kidney transplant recipients, 6 patients so far have fully withdrawn from immunosuppression without loss of new blood cells formed from transplant.

Beyond transplant, Regenerex's platform could help Novartis develop innovative cell-based therapies for underserved diseases that have few treatment options available. Novartis said in a statement that it will investigate the technology for use in serious genetic deficiencies such as inherited metabolic storage disorders and hemoglobinopathies, a group of hemoglobin diseases that includes sickle cell anemia.

The partnership broadens the Novartis' cell therapy portfolio, which includes two novel cell therapy platforms, HSC835 and CTL019, which are being tested in cancers of the blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. HSC835 is currently in a Phase II trial in patients with high-risk hematological malignancies, while CTL019, a chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, is in Phase II development in acute lymphoblastic leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

This is not the first deal Novartis has made in the area of cell therapy. Last year, the company forged an alliance with the University of Pennsylvania, pledging $20 million for the creation of a research center with technology that uses manipulated immune-system cells to fight cancer. 

- here's the press release

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