BMS wants lightbulb moment, pens deal for access to Autolus' CAR-T switch

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking for a light bulb moment, inking a deal with Autolus Therapeutics that gives the big pharma access to the biotech’s 'safety switch' for CAR-T programs.

The deal is the second BMS-biotech deal to be publicly disclosed today. The pharma giant is also partnering with San Francisco biotech SyntheX to enter the land of molecular glue degrader discovery.  

Under the Autolus agreement terms, BMS—which has two CAR-Ts on the market in the form of Breyanzi and Abecma—will pay the clinical-stage biotech an undisclosed amount upfront for access to its RQR8 safety switch for an initial set of cell therapy programs. Autolus will also be eligible for near-term option exercise fees and development milestone payments, along with royalties on sales of potential BMS cell therapy products that use the switch.

Autolus' stock jumped after the deal announcement, closing yesterday at $2.18 per share and rising to $2.63 by 10:50 a.m. ET this morning.

Autolus' switch helps manage toxicities—a crucial safety aspect for programmed cell therapies like CAR-Ts. Switches are designed to let pharmacological agents selectively destroy a cell therapy in case a patient is suffering from severe adverse side effects. Autolus’ RQR8 switch administers rituximab, an approved monoclonal antibody, which can bind to engineered CD20 epitopes on the surface of the cell therapy and prompt selective cell death.

It’s not the first major investment in Autolus’ tech and programs. Last fall, the U.K. biotech received a $250 million package from Blackstone Life Sciences to support its CD19 CAR-T therapy. The deal covers obecabtagene autoleucel, a CAR-T therapy also known as obe-cel and AUTO1. The asset is currently being evaluated in a phase 1b/2 clinical trial among adult patients with relapsed or refractory B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.