Gilead’s Kite has struck a $3 billion deal to access Sangamo Therapeutics’ zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) technology. Kite will use the ZFN gene editing platform to create next-generation, off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies to cement its position as a long-term front-runner in the growing cell therapy space.
Sangamo is giving Kite the exclusive right to use its ZFN platform to create allogeneic and autologous anticancer cell therapies. For Kite, that expands the toolkit it can apply to its R&D projects while also serving to keep the technology out of the hands of Novartis, Celgene’s Juno and the other CAR-T runners and riders.
In return, Kite is paying Sangamo $150 million upfront and committing to $3 billion in milestones. The milestones are tied to the success of 10 or more products that could potentially use Sangamo’s technology.
Full details of how those pipeline prospects will differ from the first wave of CAR-T therapies are yet to emerge. But Gilead’s release put a discussion of the potential to use the gene-editing technology in off-the-shelf cell therapies up top. As Gilead noted, off-the-shelf cell therapies eliminate the need to process a patient’s own cells, thereby cutting the time it takes for them to receive an infusion.
Cellectis, with the support of Pfizer and Sevier, is betting that benefit, plus the simplified logistics and linked effect on cost of production, will enable its off-the-shelf CAR-T cell therapies to come from behind and capture the market. The French biotech built its R&D strategy around the TALEN editing platform, while Novartis and Juno are using CRISPR/Cas9 to power their next-generation pipelines.
ZFN has been around for longer than CRISPR/Cas9 and was put in the shade by the breathless hype around the latter technology. But Sangamo has continued plugging away at the platform, bringing it to the point that it has a ZFN drug in the clinic and a landmark deal with Gilead. The deal gives Sangamo near and potentially long-term cash boosts, while also validating its belief in ZFN.
“We believe Sangamo’s zinc finger nucleases provide the optimal gene editing platform, and we look forward to working with Sangamo to accelerate our efforts to develop next-generation autologous cell therapies, as well as allogeneic treatments that can be accessed more conveniently in the hospital setting for people living with cancer,” Gilead CEO John Milligan, Ph.D., said in a statement.
Shares in Sangamo rose 8% following news of the deal, adding to a 400%-plus gain over the past year.