GSK taps Lyell Immunopharma to take cell therapy to the next level

handshake over a desk with computers and someone taking notes
Under a five-year deal, the partners will combine GlaxoSmithKline’s cell and gene therapy programs with Lyell’s technology that aims to improve the function of T cells in the hope of warding off relapses stemming from T-cell exhaustion. (rawpixel)

Although CAR-T therapies Kymriah and Yescarta earned their landmark approvals in 2017 and transformed the treatment of some blood cancers, cell therapies still haven’t broken through in solid tumors. GlaxoSmithKline is joining forces with Lyell Immunopharma to boost the “fitness” of T cells and improve their effectiveness in solid tumors. 

Under a five-year deal, the partners will combine Glaxo’s cell and gene therapy programs with Lyell’s technology that aims to improve the function and “fitness” of T cells in the hope of warding off relapses stemming from T-cell exhaustion. 

“We are witnessing significant scientific innovation in cell and gene therapies, transforming the treatment of some blood-borne cancers, but patients with solid tumours are in need of equally effective treatments,” said Hal Barron, M.D., GSK’s chief scientific officer and head of R&D, in a statement. “Applying Lyell’s novel approach to counter T cell exhaustion and working with world class scientists, such as Rick Klausner and his impressive team, increases our probability of delivering the next generation of cancer cell therapies for patients with solid tumours.” 

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GSK is in good company—Lyell CEO Rick Klausner, M.D., founded the company after heading the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and co-founding Juno Therapeutics. His team includes Chief Scientific Officer Margo Roberts, previously the CSO of Kite Pharma, EVP of Science and fellow NCI alum Nick Restifo, and R&D chief Stan Riddell, who co-founded Lyell and Juno, and spent nearly three decades at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center working on adoptive cell therapy. 

“Our approach is to tackle three of the most significant barriers to T cell efficacy in solid tumours,” Klausner said in the statement. “We are redefining the ways we prepare patient cells to be made into therapies, modulating cells’ functionality so that they maintain activity in the tumour microenvironment, and establishing methods of control to achieve specificity and safety for solid tumour-directed cell therapies.” 

San Francisco-based Lyell believes that put together, this trio of approaches will clear the hurdles to translating the success of cell therapies in blood cancers to solid tumors. The company is focusing on autologous therapies, that is, treatments made from a patient’s own cells, but thinks its technology may come in handy across the space, including allogeneic (or off-the-shelf) treatments.

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