Fate partners with Memorial Sloan Kettering on off-the-shelf CAR-T

Research into engineered T cells is proceeding apace, despite the recent kerfuffle surrounding Novartis ($NVS) disbanding its two-year-old cell and gene therapy unit and the deaths disclosed earlier this summer in Juno Therapeutics' ($JUNO) clinical testing.

The latest deal on the CAR-T front is between Juno partner Fate Therapeutics ($FATE) and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The pair are slated to develop off-the-shelf T-cell candidates using engineered pluripotent cell lines.

Micro cap Fate’s deal with Juno dates from 2015; it is specifically to identify and develop small molecules to modulate Juno’s engineered T cell candidates in cancer. Fate is developing both patient-derived cell-based treatments (autologous) as well as off-the-shelf approaches (allogenic).

“This partnership brings together Memorial Sloan Kettering’s excellence in the manufacture and delivery of cell-based immunotherapies, and our established expertise in pluripotent cell generation, engineering and differentiation,” said Fate President and CEO Scott Wolchko in a statement.

Cellular therapy is expected to be a potentially volatile approach when it comes to introducing it as part of various immuno-oncology combination treatments, as interactions can be unpredictable. That could make it a difficult approach to pursue in the long-term, particularly when a patient’s own cells are used, which introduces a significant logistical challenge.

The off-the-shelf approach that Fate and Memorial Sloan Kettering are pursuing is already being employed by various companies including Pfizer ($PFE) and Kite Therapeutics ($KITE).

“Engineering therapeutic attributes into pluripotent cell lines, such as antigen specificity, lack of alloreactivity, enhanced persistence and histocompatibility, is a breakthrough approach to renewably generate potent T-cell immunotherapies,” said Dr. Michel Sadelain, director of the Center for Cell Engineering and the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in the statement. “This unique approach offers the prospect for off-the-shelf delivery of T-cell immunotherapies with enhanced safety and therapeutic potential at the scale necessary to serve significant numbers of patients.”

Fate was up a bit on news of the deal, but its share price is less than half of what it was when it first went public almost three years ago. It has a minuscule valuation of less than $75 million and its largest shareholder, when last reported at the end of June, was still a venture investor: Polaris Venture Partners, which held nearly 9%.