Replay rolls again, creating TCR-NK cell therapy startup with MD Anderson to close in on clinic

Another biotech has rolled off Replay's prodigious production line. Seven months after launching, the company has partnered with MD Anderson Cancer Center to create its fourth startup, a cell therapy firm that is just months away from the clinic.

Replay owns and develops platform technologies and forms product companies to apply them to specific drug development tasks. Since disclosing a $55 million financing round in July, the company has put the idea into practice by setting up a string of startups focused on gene therapy treatments for diseases of the eye, skin and brain.

The latest startup moves Replay into the cell therapy space. Building on the work of MD Anderson’s Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., the company has founded Syena to develop T-cell receptor (TCR) natural killer (NK) cell therapies for the treatment of solid tumors and blood cancers. 

“This first-in-class TCR-NK technology provides an opportunity for Replay to disrupt the existing cell therapy paradigm and positions Syena to become a leader in this space,” Adrian Woolfson, executive chairman of Replay, said in a statement. “NK cells offer distinct advantages over T-cells and building on Dr. Rezvani’s research to arm them with TCRs has the potential to significantly impact oncology cell therapy.”

Forming Syena accelerates Replay’s path to the clinic. A phase 1 clinical trial of a NY-ESO-1 TCR-NK cell therapy is set to get started in patients with solid tumors and hematological malignancies in the second quarter.

Multiple groups, most notably GSK, have worked on the tumor-specific antigen NY-ESO-1. GSK pulled back from NY-ESO-1 last year, walking away from projects with Adaptimmune and Lyell Immunotherapy having previously dumped an Immunocore program, but the aberrant expression of the neoantigen in multiple tumor types remains a lure for other researchers. 

Syena’s TCR-NK cell approach differentiates it from other NY-ESO-1 development programs, which have used engineered TCRs, mRNA and T-cell therapies to get at the biology. Using NK cells could enable an off-the-shelf approach. And, by focusing on TCRs, the platform opens up the chance to expand beyond the surface proteins targeted by CAR cell therapies.