Cell Medica rebrands as Kuur, raises cash for CAR-NKT trials

Cell Medica has rebranded as Kuur Therapeutics, pulling in fresh funds from IP Group, Baylor College of Medicine and Schroder Adveq along the way. Kuur will use the money to fund phase 1 trials of autologous and allogeneic CAR natural killer T-cell (CAR-NKT) therapies.

London-based Cell Medica secured an exclusive license to Baylor’s CAR-NKT platform and five cell therapy candidates back in 2016, marking the start of its pivot away from the autologous Epstein-Barr virus-specific T cells that were then the focal point of its pipeline. Early last year, Cell Medica stopped two trials of the lead candidate from its older platform in response to slow enrollment.

The advance of CAR-NKT candidates and setbacks to older assets shifted the focus at Cell Medica. Now, Cell Medica has formalized its transformation by rebranding as Kuur and shifting its base from London to Houston.

Kuur has received funding to support its next steps. IP Group, which held almost one-quarter of Cell Medica as of the end of June, has contributed funding to its successor, as have private equity group Schroder Adveq and Kuur’s CAR-NKT partner Baylor.

The investment, the size of which has not been disclosed, will support early-phase development of two candidates. Baylor is already running a phase 1 trial of an autologous CAR-NKT therapy designed to target the GD2 molecule found on most neuroblastoma cells. 

The National Cancer Institute initiated a trial of anti-GD2 CAR-T cells in 2014, and groups including Autolus Therapeutics are continuing to explore the concept. However, Baylor thinks NKT cells are better suited to the targeting of GD2 to treat neuroblastoma, pointing to the cells’ ability to take out macrophages that support tumor growth to make its case.

While Kuur’s pipeline is led by an autologous candidate, the rest of it skews toward allogeneic assets. Administering NKT cells from one person to an unrelated individual does not appear to cause graft-versus-host disease, raising hopes that off-the-shelf CAR-NKT cells can be used. That would cut the time it takes for patients to receive treatment by freeing companies from the costly and complex task of manufacturing autologous cell therapies.  

Kuur is set to start finding out how its lead allogeneic candidate fares in patients soon. The FDA has approved an IND to test the cell therapy in CD19 malignancies, putting Kuur on track to dose the first patient in the first half of the year. Kuur is also developing an anti-GPC3 allogeneic candidate for use in the treatment of liver cancer that it expects to have ready for an IND filing in the first half of next year.

Ultimate responsibility for guiding the programs to those milestones will fall on Kevin Boyle Sr., who stepped up from chief financial officer to CEO at the start of the year. Boyle replaced Chris Nowers, the former head of Kite Pharma’s European unit. Kurt Gunter, Cell Medica’s long-time chief medical officer, will handle the clinical side of Kuur’s operation.