Gilead’s Kite bags option to buy gamma delta startup Gadeta

Gilead’s Kite Pharma has snagged an option to buy gamma delta T-cell receptor (TCR) startup Gadeta. The deal sees Kite take a stake in Gadeta and commit to milestones tied to the progress of oncology candidates.  

Dutch biotech Gadeta broke cover in 2016 when it unveiled a €7 million ($8.1 million) series A round led by Baxalta Ventures and Medicxi Ventures. The financing set up Gadeta to build on Jürgen Kuball’s efforts to put gamma delta (γδ) receptors into alpha beta T cells. In doing so, Gadeta thinks it can create cell therapies that have γδ receptors’ ability to zero in on hematological and solid tumors. 

Gadeta has kept a low profile since the 2016 series A but has now re-emerged into the limelight with a major deal. Gilead’s Kite has put together an agreement that will enable it to gradually acquire a bigger and bigger stake in Gadeta before deciding whether to buy the startup outright.

Kite got the process going by taking an equity stake in Gadeta and committing R&D funding to a collaboration with the Dutch biotech. As the R&D collaboration progresses, Kite will make milestone payments to Gadeta. The achievement of R&D milestones will also give Kite an option to buy more equity in Gadeta. Further down the line, Kite has the exclusive option to acquire Gadeta outright. 

The alliance is the latest in a string of Kite-related deals struck by Gilead since it took control of the CAR-T pioneer in October. Within months of closing the Kite acquisition, Gilead paid around $175 million and committed up to $322 million in milestones to buy preclinical cell engineering startup Cell Design Labs. Since then, Gilead and Kite have teamed up with Pfizer to run a combination trial, paid $150 million to access Sangamo Therapeutics’ zinc finger nuclease platform, bought and opened facilities and expanded an existing relationship with the National Cancer Institute.

That flurry of activity reflects the importance of cell therapies to the future of Gilead and the risk that Kite’s first mover advantage in CAR-T will be washed away by a wave of next-generation products. If a new product is going to topple Yescarta, Gilead wants to ensure it holds the rights to it.

The use of γδ receptors is one avenue being explored by next-generation immuno-oncology startups. Since Gadeta unveiled its series A, companies with a range of approaches to γδ have raised cash and struck deals. 

The potential of GammaDelta Therapeutics’ technology for extracting and amplifying tissue-resident gamma-delta T cells led Takeda to secure an option to buy the startup. Elsewhere, ImCheck Therapeutics raised €20 million to develop antibodies that act on γδ T cells, and Lava Therapeutics secured a similar amount to advance bispecific engagers of the cells.