TapImmune to merge with Baylor adoptive T-cell startup Marker

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TapImmune is planning to raise money to support its expanded pipeline. (Rawpixel)

TapImmune is planning to merge with T-cell therapy startup Marker Therapeutics. The agreement will give TapImmune control of adoptive T-cell therapies designed to provide more durable responses than CAR-Ts and other genetically engineered treatments.

Marker, a Baylor College of Medicine spinout, is based on technology for selectively expanding a patent’s own T cells. The result is T cells that target multiple tumor-expressed antigens, specifically MAGE-A4, PRAME, survivin, NY-ESO-1 and SSX2. In an early-phase lymphoma trial, the cells triggered complete responses in more than half the participants, according to TapImmune.

Jacksonville, Florida-based TapImmune is getting its hands on the technology by offering shares and warrants to Marker shareholders. If the deal goes through, Marker shareholders will own half of the combined company. 

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Marker largely flew under the radar during its three-year existence. A report from a Minnesotan medical trade group stated the firm raised $20 million last year but the financing received minimal coverage. Similarly, company co-founder Ann Leen, Ph.D., presented data on non-engineered T cells at 2017 ASCO-SITC Clinical Immuno-Oncology Symposium without capturing the sector’s attention.

The data came from Hodgkin lymphoma patients who took multi-tumor-associated antigen-specific T cells. Of the 12 patients with active disease, five had complete responses. Some patients who took the cells have been relapse-free for more than two years, emboldening TapImmune to talk up the potential to better CAR-Ts.

TapImmune is a long way from having the data to put the cells in the same league as CAR-Ts but efforts to validate the tumor-associated antigen approach are underway.

Researchers at Baylor are testing tumor-associated antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes in a few clinical trials featuring patients with lymphoma, leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome. TapImmune is set to gain a connection to Baylor’s research through the merger. The plan is to form a strategic alliance that covers research, manufacturing support and early-phase clinical trials. 

TapImmune is also planning to raise money to support its expanded pipeline. The goal is to raise enough money to take the combined company into 2020.