Astellas-owned Xyphos offers more than $800M for Kelonia's in vivo delivery know-how

Just because cell therapy’s use in autoimmune diseases is now in vogue does not mean applications in cancer have evaporated.

Astellas is proving that point, with its subsidiary Xyphos linking arms with Kelonia in a research and licensing deal worth north of $800 million, according to an announcement Thursday evening. The two companies are fusing their technologies to work on up to two programs in immuno-oncology, with the second contingent on Xyphos opting in. Kelonia will receive a $40 million upfront payment for its work and could snag another $35 million should Xyphos buy into the second. The total amount of milestone and contingency payments is close to $800 million, the companies said. 

At the crux of the deal is Kelonia’s lentiviral particle meant to precisely deliver genetic material to a target in the body in vivo. Xyphos plans to tack that tech onto its convertible CAR platform that modifies the NKG2D receptor, which plays an active role in immune surveillance, according to the company. The belief is that attaching different functional molecules onto the revised receptor will make the CARs more adaptable and able to reach multiple tumor targets.

“The idea that we can actually have our very controlled, tuneable technology … delivered in an in vivo manner, therefore not needing all that cell culture, really provides us great opportunity to treat as many patients as we possibly can,” Xyphos President Gary Starling, Ph.D., said in an interview. “Our level of excitement around this is high.” 

Kelonia CEO Kevin Friedman, Ph.D., said Xyphos will be able to provide the quality cargo that makes the best use of the delivery tech.

“Gary and the Xyphos/Astellas team has this awesome cargo, we have this awesome in vivo gene delivery tool,” Friedman said. “It’s almost like a match made in heaven.” 

Kelonia will work on early and preclinical research before handing off candidates to Xyphos once they’re ready for the clinic. That leaves Kelonia still laser-focused on its anti-BCMA CAR that it’s working on independently. As for Xyphos, its early pipeline is led by a CD20-targeting, convertible CAR-T that Starling says is “very close” to entering the clinic.  The company’s second asset is a convertable NK cell.

Astellas bought the cell therapy biotech back in 2019 for $120 million upfront with more than $500 million in biobucks available.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the total deal value.