IPO-hopeful Kite Pharma inks an NIH licensing deal on hot TCR tech

Just days after GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) barreled into a new cancer drug pact targeting the hot T-cell receptor field and a lead program at Adaptimmune, one of the pioneering rivals in the arena has partnered on similar work at the National Cancer Institute.

Santa Monica-based Kite Pharma, which recently filed for a $115 million IPO, snapped up the NIH's IP on TCRs that target the NY-ESO-1 antigen--the same expression target that GSK just partnered on--which is implicated in a variety of cancers. Kite is also developing CAR-T drugs aimed at spurring an immune-system attack against cancer cells.

Like CAR-T, TCR tech looks to genetically reengineer T cells into cancer-fighting soldiers, opening a new chapter in immuno-oncology (IO) that has quickly grabbed the attention of some key players in the cancer arena. While CAR-T looks to add a chimeric antigen receptor to the surface of T cells so that they can better destroy cancer cells, TCRs are focused on intracellular tinkering, and NY-ESO-1 looks to be the top contender among the targets for treating tumors.

According to Kite, the NCI is in a Phase II study of one drug candidate under a development agreement with the biotech. "Kite is investigating murine (mouse)-derived TCR technology platforms developed by the NCI Surgery Branch for the treatment of solid tumors under the CRADA," the biotech said in a statement. "Preclinical evaluation in the Surgery Branch of murine TCRs targeting the NY-ESO-1 antigen identified a murine TCR with comparable or enhanced activity relative to the equivalent human-based NY-ESO-1 TCR."

Kite agreed to pay the NIH a set of milestones and royalties for any successful program, but didn't spell out the details.

- here's the release