London-based Cell Medica, one of last year’s Fierce 15, has signed a pact with Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine to find and develop next-gen tech for engineering immune cells in tumors.
In a joint statement, the two saw the “ground-breaking” co-development partnership will see Cell Medica gain an exclusive license over several Baylor cell and gene technologies, as well as an option to license new products from the partnership by Baylor’s research teams in the field of genetically engineered immune cells.
The collab, which builds on R&D work the two already have going on, comes off the back of some recent and high profile success of early trials in chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to enable human immune cells to recognize and kill cancer cells expressing tumor-associated antigens.
What Cell Medica and Baylor plan to do under their new pact is to apply CAR technology to natural killer T (NKT) cells as a novel immune cell type with biological properties that may be particularly effective for targeting solid tumors--NKT cells are known to infiltrate tissues where solid tumors arise and kill both malignant cells and cancer-enabling cells such as tumor-associated macrophages.
CAR-T drugs are currently the biz buzz in biotech, with Juno ($JUNO), Kite ($KITE) and Novartis ($NVS)--among a growing host of other players--all vying for a potential new market that has seen some stellar trial results in recent months.
But there is a snag; while data from Juno and Kite have been highly regarded, they have come with some serious safety concerns and currently only seem to work really well on blood cancers--but have been less impressive in solid tumors. Cell Medica will hope its new pact with Baylor may help turn these fortunes around.
The two companies said in a statement that under the deal, they will also seek to genetically engineered T cell receptor (TCR) for use in NKT cells and T cells.
The “next-generation product concepts”, as they are calling them, will combine the targeting aspects of CAR and TCR technologies with functional engineering to enable the modified immune cells to counteract the powerful inhibitory mechanisms that tumor cells deploy to evade the immune response.
Financial details, as is becoming more common, were not disclosed. Cell Medica has however paid Baylor an upfront fee for the exclusive licensing arrangements and will make additional payments to exercise its exclusive option to license future products.
As part of its upfront payment, the privately-held Cell Medica agreed to pay Baylor in preference shares that are convertible into common shares.
Cell Medica expects the collaboration to generate a “significant number of new products” for its cellular immunotherapy pipeline. The U.K. biotech had a $78 million funding round back in 2014 with help from Imperial Innovations, Invesco Perpetual and Woodford Investment Management.
It also counts the Wellcome Trust and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CRIT) among its R&D partners.
The biotech's top prospect is CMD-003, an immunotherapy comprised of a patient's own T cells. The treatment targets advanced lymphomas associated with Epstein Barr virus (EBV), an oncogenic condition tied to a wide range of cancers.
With its Series B, Cell Medica pushed on with its Phase II trial in lymphoma with the help of CRIT, while also continuing research into EBV-associated malignancies including leukemia, nasopharyngeal carcinoma and gastric cancer.
Under the terms of its latest partnership, Baylor will conduct the preclinical and Phase I clinical research under the guidance of the Joint Steering Committee including members from both organizations.
Meanwhile, Cell Medica will work in parallel to support early product development and will use its experience in manufacturing clinical-grade cell therapies establish a production processes suitable for industrial scale-up. Following completion of successful Phase I studies, the products will go to Cell Medica for later-stage clinical development and commercialization.
“We are very pleased to partner with Cell Medica in a collaboration aimed at unlocking the huge potential of cellular immunotherapy for the benefit of cancer patients,” said Dr. Adam Kuspa, senior vice president and dean for research at Baylor College of Medicine.
“The co-development partnership represents a novel aspect of this collaboration which will fully engage Baylor in the early stage development work, including Phase I studies”.
“This collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine will place Cell Medica at the forefront of new product concepts for CAR-modified immune cells,” added Gregg Sando, CEO of Cell Medica.
“Baylor’s leading research capability in this field should add significantly to our pipeline of high value products targeting cancer types that do not respond to conventional treatments.”
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