MolMed (BIT:MLM) has become the latest to buy its way into the CAR-T race. The deal sees it pick up assets from an immune-gene therapy CAR-CD44v6 project run by a group at San Raffaele Scientific Institute, the Milan-based research center that struck a deal with Biogen ($BIIB) in January.
Luigi Naldini, who heads up the San Raffaele-Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (TIGET) with which Biogen partnered, played a role in the Attilio Bondanza-led research program licensed by MolMed. Tests in mouse models have assessed the efficacy of the treatment against acute myeloid leukemia and multiple myeloma, but MolMed thinks there is the potential to branch out into a range of hematological and solid tumor indications. In theory, any cancer involving variant 6 of the CD44 antigen--a list which includes the above mentioned hematological indications and carcinomas of the breast and lung--is an option.
The hematological mouse model tests date back to 2013, at which time Naldini and his collaborators said the use of a chimeric antigen receptor with a CD28 signaling domain to target T cells at CD44v6 warranted investigation in clinical trials. MolMed is well placed to assess the strength of the project. The drugmaker struck a deal with San Raffaele Hospital in 2001 that gives it the option to pick up any gene and molecular therapies for oncology and AIDS that emerge from the research center. And it has taken an active interest in the progress of the CAR-CD44v6 project.
MolMed CEO Claudio Bordignon co-authored the CD44v6 paper with Naldini and a who's who of researchers from the Milanese gene therapy scene. "The CAR-CD44v6 project will benefit not only from our extensive experience and knowhow in the field of gene and cell therapy, but also from the conjugation with the suicide gene TK, becoming the first CAR-T product to integrate a control system already extensively tested and validated in clinical trials," Bordignon said in a statement.
The experience and knowhow to which Bordignon refers has started to attract attention. As well as the gene therapy deal with Biogen, TIGET is working with local startup Genenta Science on the targeted use of interferon against hematopoietic malignancies.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of Attilio Bondanza's role in the research.