Juno Therapeutics is focused on the future despite being in the midst of concerns about its recent trial hold. The startup has bought a Boston-based startup to gain a small molecule that it can use in combination with its engineered T cell platform.
It paid $10 million in cash plus committed to undisclosed clinical, regulatory and commercial milestone payments for the startup, RedoxTherapies. Redox has a license to vipadenant, an adenosine A2a (A2a) receptor antagonist that Juno expects could work to disrupt key immunosuppressive pathways in the tumor microenvironment in some cancers.
Redox licensed vipadenant from Vernalis a couple of years ago under a deal with undisclosed terms.
“Multiple approaches to overcoming the tumor microenvironment will be key in optimizing the clinical benefit of engineered T cells, and T cells more broadly, in the treatment of cancer,” said Juno CSO Dr. Hy Levitsky in a statement. "Inhibiting the adenosine pathway is one of the most intriguing pathways in this important area of science, and we look forward to testing the hypothesis around this pathway clinically. We look forward to integrating this asset into our ongoing research and clinical efforts and exploring it in combination with product candidates from our portfolio."
Vipadenant is an oral small molecule; it’s been dosed in about 250 Parkinson’s disease patients in Phase I and Phase II testing. Serum levels of the drug have been found to predict saturation of the A2a receptor and blockade of signaling via this pathway.
Redox founder Michail Sitkovsky will become a scientific consultant to Juno.
“Reversing the inhibition caused by hypoxia and adenosine has the potential to unlock T cells in even the most difficult to treat tumors,” said Sitkovsky. “The ability to combine our assets with Juno’s pipeline in the field of TCR and CAR-T cell therapies is an ideal match.”
Juno shares were down 5% on a July 14 SEC filing that corrected its conference call statement to increase the number of deaths related to its chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) candidates to four from a previously stated three. The fourth death was included as part of data presented at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting in December 2015.
Last week’s trial hold was specifically for Juno lead candidate JCAR015 after the most recent two deaths. Of the 129 relapsed or refractory B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients treated with different Juno CAR-T cells, four have died. The company--and the FDA, which has already lifted the clinical trial hold--expects that the deaths were related to the combination of those with a preconditioning regimen that included the chemotherapy fludarabine.
The fourth case, like the others, was a young adult patient who had received a preconditioning regimen including fludarabine but this time with another Juno candidate, JCAR014.
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