CRISPR biotech Editas Medicine and cell therapy specialist BlueRock Therapeutics are pooling their knowledge to create new, off-the-shelf engineered cell therapies. The duo has inked a research and cross-licensing deal that gives each partner nonexclusive access to the other’s technology, with Editas working on cancer treatments and BlueRock focusing on neurology, cardiology and immunology.
Under the deal, the pair will combine Editas’ CRISPR technology and BlueRock’s induced pluripotent stem cell platform to develop allogeneic pluripotent stem cell lines that will lay the groundwork for new engineered cell medicines that can be used off the shelf.
“We believe combining CRISPR-based genome editing with cell therapy has the potential to deliver game-changing allogeneic medicines, and we are excited to work with the team at BlueRock to develop genome-edited iPSCs with the potential to enable and accelerate the development of numerous, transformative medicines for people with many serious diseases,” said Cindy Collins, interim CEO at Editas, in a statement.
The deal comes two months after Editas’ former CEO Katrine Bosley announced she would step down following the exits of Chief Medical Officer Gerald Cox and Chief Financial Officer Andrew Hack. The executive exodus came amid a trying time for the company; Editas had once hoped to start clinical trials of its first therapy by the end of 2017, but a manufacturing delay held up those plans. The FDA eventually green-lighted Editas’ IND application for its CRISPR-based treatment for LCA10, a rare form of blindness, last fall, triggering a $25 million milestone payment from Allergan. But the setback allowed CRISPR Therapeutics and partner Vertex to leapfrog Editas, kicking off a European trial of their ex vivo CRISPR-based treatment for beta thalassemia in August.
Each partner will pay the other development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments for any treatments they license in their respective fields, the pair said in the statement. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Engineered cell therapies had a validating year in 2017, with the first two CAR-T treatments earning FDA approval. Kymriah and Yescarta are both autologous therapies, meaning they are created from a patient’s own T cells, which are removed, modified and then reinfused. Now, several companies are looking to improve upon autologous methods by pursuing allogeneic, or off-the-shelf, treatments made from donor cells. Such treatments could address the high cost, complex manufacturing and time-consuming nature of autologous treatments. They could also become an option for patients in need of treatment but who do not have enough T cells, or T cells of good enough quality, to be made into a treatment.