Genentech pays $70M to access Arsenal's armory of T-cell tools in quest for solid tumor CAR-T

In the race to create a CAR-T therapy that can treat solid tumors, Genentech has decided it needs all the help it can get. The Roche unit has fronted $70 million to use Arsenal Biosciences’ armory of screening and T-cell engineering tools to find a truly successful target.

Arsenal’s engineering platform spans a range of cutting-edge tech including high-throughput CRISPR-based gene editing, synthetic biology and algorithms to create new synthetic biological programs designed to enhance the function of T cells. The ultimate goal: to identify “critical success circuits” that can overcome the complex immunological defense systems protecting solid tumors.

Under the collaboration, for which further details were scarce, both companies will be able to leverage the lessons in the development of their own therapeutic candidates, Arsenal said.

“By partnering with ArsenalBio, we are accessing powerful technologies to advance the understanding of the biological programming of T cells that might be crucial in providing important therapies for difficult to treat cancers,” said James Sabry, Ph.D., global head of Roche Pharma Partnering, in a Sept. 27 release.

The first generation of CAR-Ts scored successes against hematological malignancies, and Big Pharma already has its sights set on the next generation including "off-the-shelf" variations. Yet an approval to treat solid tumors has remained tantalizing out of reach, with Novartis and AstraZeneca among the big players that have outlined their solid tumor CAR-T ambitions to Fierce Biotech in recent months.

Roche's collaboration with Arsenal marks the end of a strong month for the biotech, which began September raking in $220 million in a series B financing round that included Bristol Myers Squibb. In an exclusive interview with Fierce Biotech at the time, Arsenal CEO Ken Drazan set out the South San Francisco-based company’s three-pronged strategy: develop nonviral, gene-edited, autologous T cells to treat solid tumors; build a robust database of instructions for figuring out how best to edit these cells; and partner up with other companies. Three weeks later, it looks like Arsenal has each of these bases covered.

Roche has been late to the CAR-T game, only joining the action last year with a $3 billion Adaptimmune Therapeutics deal for off-the-shelf T-cell therapies followed by a $110 million agreement with Poseida Therapeutics for a clutch of CAR-Ts last month.