Abingworth seeds I/O startup to exploit advance in solid tumor targeting T cells

Abingworth is seeding a British immuno-oncology startup based on the work of gamma-delta T cell pioneer Adrian Hayday. The startup, GammaDelta Therapeutics, is focused on turning a breakthrough in the extraction and amplification of tissue-resident gamma-delta T cells into a pipeline of programs that can invade solid tumors more effectively than existing options.

GammaDelta has come into being surrounded by a constellation of notable names from the British biotech scene.

Hayday and Dr. Oliver Nussbaumer, who call King’s College London and the newly opened Francis Crick Institute home, have contributed the science, some of the funding for which came from Cancer Research UK. Abingworth has chipped in an undisclosed amount of seed money to get GammaDelta started. And former GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) SVPs Peter Goodfellow and Mike Owen have joined the biotech’s board.

The Abingworth-incubated startup has attracted this level of interest on the strength of work at Hayday’s lab, which the GammaDelta team thinks has figured out a way to extract and amplify tissue-resident gamma-delta T cells in a way that preserves their cytolytic properties.

If this leads to the therapeutics foreseen by GammaDelta, something that isn’t certain given the early stage of the research, it will mark a notable increase in the size and power of the payload that can be delivered into solid tumors.

“Essentially, all the T cells that we can infuse into patients would attack the tumors, whereas if you consider alpha-beta T cells, only a tiny subset would actually attack the tumor, those that recognized tumor-presented antigens,” Raj Mehta, founder and interim CEO of GammaDelta, told FierceBiotech.

Other research groups have worked on gamma-delta T cell programs, but the focus has been on the blood-resident variant. These are more accessible and easier to amplify than tissue-resident gamma-delta T cells, but, being blood-resident, they tend to only invade solid tumors in small numbers. The secret sauce at GammaDelta is the tissue-resident gamma-delta T cell extraction and amplification process.

“Here is a population of cells. We can extract them, amplify them to the levels that we can actually think about therapy, and nobody else can do that,” Mehta said. “These cells, when we analyze them, they tick pretty much every single box you want for a potent cytolytic T cell.”

Those boxes include consistent cell-to-cell expression of high levels of interferon gamma, a characteristic Mehta thinks increases the likelihood therapeutics derived from the technology will invade and kill tumor cells.

GammaDelta is being cagey about how it plans to apply the technology and the next steps for the startup in general, but the core idea is to go after one of the big unclaimed prizes in immuno-oncology.

“We’re planning to ... initially target solid tumors at the moment, adaptive T cell therapy, and we’re looking at various other aspects of those T cells to look at how we can exploit the biology of tissue-resident gamma-delta T cells,” Mehta said.