Kite adds to T-cell receptor platform with HiFiBiO deal

Gilead’s Kite is paying $10 million upfront to tap into a neoantigen screening platform developed by Hong Kong biotech HiFiBiO Therapeutics to discover T-cell receptors (TCRs) for cancer.

The two companies say they will adapt the platform to scale up and accelerate the screening process so that it can be applied to cells taken from patient samples—potentially allowing the development of targeted, personalized cellular immunotherapies.

Neoantigen are driving a new form of personalized immunotherapy in which antigens that are found in diseased tissues but not normally in healthy patients are used to develop targeted therapies. That ties in neatly with Kite’s TCR platform, which involves identifying receptors that bind to tumor antigens, modifying autologous peripheral blood T cells to express them and then administering them to patients.

The biotech has been working in the neoantigen/TCR space for some time through a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to discover mutations in oncogenes such as KRAS that can be targeted with T-cell therapies. Two years ago, the partners published a case study of a patient with metastatic colorectal cancer who was successfully treated with T cells that targeting the KRAS G12D mutation.

Since then, Kite has advanced its lead TCR candidates into clinical trials, including KITE-439 for HPV-associated solid tumors—which has initial phase 1 results and also grew out of the NIH collaboration—and MAGE A3/A6-targeted KITE-718.

“Neoantigen-based cell therapy is a very exciting, yet complex, area of research that has the potential to transform the way we treat many solid tumors,” said Alessandro Riva, M.D., who heads up Gilead’s oncology therapeutics and cell therapy programs.

“We are excited about this collaboration with HiFiBiO, which will build upon our existing capabilities focused on discovering cell therapies which target patient-specific tumor neoantigens.”

In return for its $10 million, Kite is taking an exclusive option to license HiFiBiO’s platform to screen T cells for receptors that can be used in engineered T-cell therapies, while the Hong Kong company is also in line for undisclosed milestone payments.

This is the second platform strengthening deal for Kite’s TCR program in the last few months, coming after it took an option to buy Dutch biotech Gadeta and its gamma delta TCR technology.