Novartis licenses CAR-T patents from bluebird, Celyad

Novartis has licensed CAR-T patents from bluebird bio and Celyad. The agreements give Novartis the nonexclusive right to use intellectual property related to bluebird’s lentiviral vector platform and Celyad’s off-the-shelf CAR-T technology.

Bluebird has granted Novartis the right to use its lentiviral vector platform to develop CAR-T therapies. The agreement covers the use of the intellectual property on the anti-CD19 CAR-T Novartis is rushing toward approval—CTL019—and others in its current and future pipelines.

Neither bluebird nor Novartis has said how much money is changing hands. But the headline figure for the Celyad deal is known. Novartis is paying up to $96 million in an upfront fee and milestones to get intellectual property that clears it to work on off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies. Novartis’ first CAR-T is an autologous therapy. Penning the pact with Celyad suggests it is looking beyond these asset to future autologous candidates.

The Celyad agreement includes intellectual property covered by U.S. Patent No. 9,181,527. That is the patent at the center of the dispute between Cellectis and Celyad, which turned nasty late last year. After months of sparring in the courts and other forums, the tone soured after Cellectis CEO André Choulika said a claim related to the patent had been invalidated.

Celyad CEO Christian Homsy branded the comments “inappropriate”, “misleading”, “defamatory” and “baseless” in an unusually strongly worded public rebuttal to Choulika. Homsy and Celyad then claimed victory after the U.S. Patent Office upheld the patent and the disputed claim. The deal with Novartis shows the value of that ruling.

“This nonexclusive agreement with Novartis recognizes the importance of our IP for companies developing allogeneic CAR-T therapies,” Homsy said in a statement.

The $96 million deal starts the process of recouping the outlay Celyad—then known as Cardio3 BioSciences—made to get into the CAR-T sector when it acquired assets from Celdara's OnCyte in 2015.