Small cap Sorrento forms latest JV to tweak natural killer cells

Product knowledge a must to close the deal

Sorrento Therapeutics ($SRN) is creating a joint venture with South Korea’s CHA Biotech to develop chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) modified cellular therapies based on activated killer cell (AKC) technology to fight cancer. This is at least the fourth JV Sorrento has created in the last couple of years.

The technology takes natural killer cells from patient blood and uses them to develop “highly activated” NKCs. The process takes less than three weeks and 3 ounces of peripheral blood; it offers enough cells for several treatment cycles, the partners said. The resulting activated killer cells (AKCs) can be cryopreserved. More than 1,000 AKC batches have been produced and are in ongoing clinical testing in Japan.

"In the rapidly growing field of NK Cell-based therapies, CBT's AKC technology stands out as one of the most promising and advanced platforms," said Sorrento President and CEO Dr. Henry Ji in a statement.

He continued, "We believe that NK Cell-based therapies have the potential to overcome safety and efficacy hurdles seen with current CAR-T products. The preclinical data as well as ongoing investigator-initiated studies for AKC have shown tremendous promise already and in our JV with CBT, we plan to develop the next-generation of AKC programs utilizing Sorrento's CAR technology.”

The San Diego, CA-based small cap will contribute 5 of its CARs, while CHA Biotech adds its AKC tech to the global JV that excludes the greater China market. Each of them will fund the JV with $2 million, with CHA Biotech holding 51% and Sorrento holding 49%.

Sorrento also gains a license to develop and market the South Korean biotech’s AKC technology in major territories including the U.S., Europe and a co-exclusive license in China for an unspecified royalty.

"Together we will be able to expedite the clinical product development as well as utilize Sorrento's CAR technology to enhance AKC's anti-cancer activity," noted CHA Biotech CEO Jong-soo Choi in the release. "The JV will be headquartered at our CHA Bio Complex, which is Korea's largest biomedical research center."

Sorrento has been on a role of late, collecting up partnerships and getting a major financing done. But all that optimistic activity isn’t reflected in Wall Street’s appraisal of the company.

In July, it partnered with Servier on anti-PD-1 antibody development, nabbing an upfront of €25 million ($28 million) under the deal with up to €710 million ($785 million) in potential commercial sales milestones. It could also receive a high single-digit to double-digit royalty.

And, prior to that, in June, Sorrento created a CAR T cell joint venture with 3SBio that is structured similarly to this latest deal with CHA Biotech. Between them, Sorrento and 3SBio are contributing a total of $10 million, with the former holding 49% and the latter 51%.

Sorrento also rounded up $150 million in a June private placement led by Hong Kong investor Ally Bridge Group, an impressive feat, particularly given that its market cap is scarcely above $250 million.

- here is the release

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