After boosting gene therapy focus, Bayer signs up to new cell therapy pact with Atara

Bayer Headquarters site Leverkusen, Germany
Bayer site in Leverkusen, Germany (Bayer)

German pharma Bayer is moving into cell therapy R&D with its latest pact focusing on tough-to-treat lung cancers with Atara Biotherapeutics.

Bayer has been moving deeply into gene therapies over the past few years, but it's now entering the CAR-T research space in its Atara deal. CAR-T has been focused heavily on blood cancers, where there have been some amazing successes (but also serious safety worries), but this pact is focusing on a tougher area for cell therapy, namely solid tumors.

The deal focuses on off-the-shelf T-cell immunotherapy ATA3271 for high mesothelin-expressing tumors, with a focus on more rare and tough-to-treat high mesothelin-expressing tumors such as malignant pleural mesothelioma and non-small cell lung cancer.

The financials break down like this: Atara gets $60 million upfront, with up to $610 million on the table in biobucks. The biotech will lead IND-enabling studies and process development for ATA3271, while Bayer will be responsible for submitting the IND and then will take over R&D and sales work.

Atara will continue to be responsible for the ongoing ATA2271 phase 1 study, for which an IND filing has been accepted and a test already started.

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For a limited time, Bayer also has a nonexclusive right to negotiate a license for additional Atara CAR-T product candidates.

“This transaction is a fundamental element of Bayer’s new Cell & Gene Therapy strategy. It strengthens our development portfolio through allogeneic cell therapies and consolidates our emerging leadership in the field,” said Wolfram Carius, head of Bayer’s Cell & Gene Therapy Unit.

“We look forward to collaborating with Atara to develop off-the-shelf CAR T-cell therapies for patients with difficult-to-treat cancers.”

Germany’s Bayer has moved into cell and gene therapies on multiple fronts in recent years, buying up induced pluripotent stem cell specialist BlueRock Therapeutics and adeno-associated virus gene therapy player Asklepios BioPharmaceutical while investing in a clutch of other biotechs. The deals have given Bayer a pipeline of five advanced assets and more than 15 preclinical prospects.

It has backed other CAR-T players over the years, including CAR alternative player Triumvira and Century Therapeutics, but the Atara deal takes it further into directly working on a cell therapy.

“This exciting collaboration between Atara and Bayer will accelerate the development of mesothelin-targeted CAR T-cell therapies for multiple solid tumors and helps us advance the power of our allogeneic cell therapy platform to patients as quickly as possible,” added Pascal Touchon, president and CEO of Atara.

“Bayer’s proven track record in oncology global development and commercialization, and growing presence in cell and gene therapy, enhances Atara’s capabilities and complements our leading allogeneic T-cell platform.”