Regeneron's cell medicines chief is crafting a new cell therapy 'secret sauce'

Phil Gregory’s new gig looks a whole lot like his old gig. It’s just that, under the umbrella of Regeneron, things have gotten a bit bigger.

“The integration is going great. My head's practically exploded three or four times to assimilate all the information,” Gregory joked in an interview on the sidelines of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) annual meeting Wednesday in Baltimore. “The main challenge has been like neuronal strength to understand everything that's happening.”

Now head of Regeneron Cell Medicines, Gregory came over to the famed Big Biotech with the sale of 2seventy’s cell therapy pipeline. The deal, announced in January, did not include financial details beyond a $5 million upfront payment and a $10 million milestone to be paid by Regeneron for the first market approval of the first program resulting from the transaction.

2seventy and Regeneron had worked together before when the cell therapy biotech was still a part of bluebird bio. The two signed a deal in 2018.

“We weren’t coming in cold,” Gregory said of the prior partnership. “A lot of the players on the Regeneron side were well known to us and vice versa. So, as integrations go, I think it's really benefited from that familiarity. Everybody kind of knows each other.”

Snapping up long-term partners is kind of Regeneron’s thing. See Decibel Therapeutics, another Regeneron acquisition, which was the talk of the ASGCT meeting Wednesday with data showing the restoration of hearing in two profoundly deaf children with a genetic form of hearing loss.

Gregory said the 2seventy integration is well underway—not quite finished but moving along. His colleague, 2seventy Chief Medical Officer Steve Bernstein, M.D., also joined Regeneron. 

“Now we can kind of put that [partnership] on steroids because we now get access to the full suite of technologies on the other side of the fence because there is no fence. We’re all part of the same thing,” Gregory said.

That doesn’t mean things were seamless, mind you. Gregory said the biggest issue for him has been the immense learning curve required to get up to speed on Regeneron’s technologies.

“The issues are really more on the other side of, we now have to catch up with everything that's happening in Regeneron. And that's really part of the secret sauce here,” Gregory said.

Regeneron executed the deal for the cell therapy pipeline that 2seventy had, but Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., signaled shortly after the deal that the goal is to someday blend Regeneron’s antibody capabilities with 2seventy’s cell therapy approach to create something new in biologics. So this is not a plug-and-play acquisition.

“The cell therapy component by itself, we think, of course, had tremendous value, but the value of that in combination with everything that's happening on the Regeneron side is really the one plus one equals seven,” Gregory said.

Over the next year, Gregory said the focus is on driving toward the inflection points for the original 2seventy pipeline. That includes the dual-targeted CAR T cell therapy bbT369 in B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, SC-DARIC33 in acute myeloid leukemia, a MUC16-targeted CAR-T for ovarian cancer, a MAGE-A4 TCR program in solid tumors and therapies aimed at automimmune indications and several unnamed targets.

Longer term, the company will work in Regeneron’s biologics, so antibodies and bispecifics, as well as some that haven’t been disclosed yet. “All that stuff needs to get brought into the cell therapy world where we think there’s one of those synergistic opportunities,” Gregory said.

And Regeneron is still keeping an eye on other technologies that could match this ambitious new program, Gregory noted.

“We're also trying to make sure that we're always looking for the next opportunity, both technologically from things that are happening inside both sides of the company as well as externally. We always keep our eyes open as to what could come in and really sort of fuel the future,” he said.