Cell Medica buys clinical-phase WT1-TCR cell therapy

Cell Medica has bought Catapult Therapy TCR for its clinical-phase WT1 T-cell receptor (TCR) cell therapy. Catapult Therapy TCR developed the therapy as a treatment for blood cancers, but Cell Medica thinks it can retool it to take out solid tumors.

Production of the cell therapy entails modifying a patient’s own T cells to identify and destroy cells that express the WT1 protein, which is associated with mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. But early development of the WT1-TCR cell therapy has eschewed these solid tumors in favor of going after acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.

That is set to change under the ownership of Cell Medica. The British biotech plans to apply the Dominant TCR technology it licensed from UCL last year to the cell therapy to equip it to treat solid tumors. The technology is designed to increase the efficacy of engineered T cells by dialing up the expression of TCRs.

“Our objective is to show how we can enhance any existing TCR cell therapy with the Dominant TCR technology to create a more effective treatment for patients with solid tumors who otherwise have a very poor prognosis,” Cell Medica CEO Gregg Sando said in a statement.

Cell Medica plans to work on the therapy over the next year or so with a view to starting a phase 1/2 trial late in 2018. Catapult Therapy TCR has already tested the cell therapy in a small number of patients. But those studies looked at the unenhanced version of the candidate in blood cancers.

The earlier trials were sponsored by the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, which set up Catapult Therapy TCR in collaboration with UCL Business and Imperial Innovations—now called Touchstone Innovations—in 2014. CGT Catapult committed £10 million to the subsidiary. Financial details of the takeover by Cell Medica weren’t disclosed.

CGT Catapult will remain involved in advancing the cell therapy. Cell Medica is setting up a cell therapy manufacturing operation at CGT Catapult’s site in Stevenage. That operation will produce the WT1-TCR cell therapy and potentially other candidates. Cell Medica plans to transfer the WT1-TCR cell therapy to the site over the next 12 months while working with CGT Catapult to develop a commercial-scale production process.

The agreement continues a busy period for Cell Medica. Over the past 12 months the biotech has built out its technology base through the UCL licensing pact, agreements with Baylor College of Medicine and the acquisition of Delenex Therapeutics. Cell Medica followed up on these deals by raising £60 million to expand its clinical-phase pipeline.