Takeda joins CAR-T chasing pack with Noile-Immune alliance

Takeda building
Biotech startup will work closely with scientists at Takeda's cell therapy research unit.

With CAR-T therapies now reaching the market, Japanese drugmaker Takeda has made a play to grab a slice of the pie via a deal with biotech startup Noile-Immune.

The agreement gives Takeda a line into the work of Professor Koji Tamada at Yamaguchi University in Japan, who is a founder and chief scientific and medical officer at Tokyo-based Noile-Immune and spent 13 years in the U.S. working at the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University.

According to Noile-Immune's website, the Japanese biotech is working on refining the CAR-T process to improve its efficacy in solid tumors, extending the technology from its current use in hematological cancers. Tamada's research focuses on finding ways to improve the accumulation of persistence of T cells in tumors—key obstacles to using the approach in solid tumors—which has resulted in a Yamaguchi University patent that has been licensed by Noile-Immune.

Takeda says it is making an undisclosed technology access payment and an equity investment in Noile-Immune in order to claim "exclusive options to obtain licensing rights for the development and commercialization of Noile-Immune’s pipeline and products resulting from this partnership."

Takeda is joining the CAR-T throng at a pivotal time. On the plus side, Novartis has just claimed FDA approval for Kymriah (tisagenleucel) in acute lymphoblastic leukemia—the first therapy in the class—and looks set to be joined shortly by Kite Pharma and its axicabtagene ciloleucel candidate, which has just been given a pass on an advisory committee meeting and is heading for an FDA verdict for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

On the other hand, while the efficacy of CAR-T has been almost miraculous for some patients, safety remains a tricky matter. Juno learned that to its cost after being forced to abandon its lead candidate JCAR015 earlier this year after patient deaths, while Cellectis has just revealed a fatality in its lead program that has prompted an FDA clinical hold.  

Takeda's head of cancer drug discovery, Chris Arendt, said the deal acknowledges "the enormous potential of next-generation CAR-T cell therapy technology to deliver transformative medicines in oncology."

The move into CAR-T is a logical one for Takeda, which has already made a foray into cell-based therapies with the formation of its T-CiRA program—based out of its Shonan Research Center in Japan—which is focusing on developing stem cell therapies for heart failure, diabetes mellitus, neuro-psychiatric disorders and cancer, among other diseases.

"We are especially excited that our collaboration with the outstanding team at Noile-Immune will be located at [Shonan], allowing our Takeda scientists to work side-by-side with the Noile-Immune team to accelerate the advancement of innovative cellular immunotherapies to the clinic," said Arendt.