Sorrento dives into immuno-oncology under Soon-Shiong's shadow

Sorrento Therapeutics ($SRNE), a frequent partner of billionaire biotech entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, launched a new subsidiary to advance its take on CAR-T therapies for cancer, taking a page from its patron as it tosses more and more irons in the R&D fire.

The new venture, dubbed TNK Therapeutics, will focus on developing immunotherapies derived from a collaboration between Sorrento and California biotech Conkwest. Under an $11 million deal signed in December, Conkwest agreed to combine its cell therapy, Neukoplast, with Sorrento's proprietary antibodies, creating targeted cancer treatments that home in on tumors, the partners said. Unlike CAR-T treatments, which require the harvesting of patients own immune cells, Neukoplast is an off-the-shelf technology, Conkwest said, meaning the duo's CAR-TNK--pronounced "car tank"--treatments could create an easier-to-manufacture approach to cancer cell therapy.

NantWorks founder Patrick Soon-Shiong

Looming over the partnership is Soon-Shiong, who picked out Sorrento as his immuno-oncology partner of choice over a series of deals and, days after the CAR-TNK agreement, bought a $48 million stake in Conkwest. In the months since, Soon-Shiong's sprawling NantWorks has invested in Sorrento's cancer pipeline, teamed up with the biotech to launch a joint venture called NantiCell and, last week, founded yet another subsidiary called NantPharma to purchase Sorrento's lead asset for $90 million up front.

For Sorrento, the NantPharma deal could provide as much as $1.2 billion in milestone payments, and the San Diego biotech plans to pour any proceeds into its growing pipeline of early-stage cancer therapies.

"The establishment of TNK Therapeutics will allow us to fully leverage Sorrento's G-MAB library to create novel CAR constructs for the generation of CAR.TNKs and other cellular therapies," CEO Henry Ji said in a statement. "This important step in Sorrento's corporate development positions Sorrento to be a leader in the highly promising and rapidly emerging field of adoptive cellular immunotherapies, which show promise as potent weapons against solid tumors and hematological malignancies."

- read the announcement

Special Report: The 25 most influential people in biopharma in 2015 - Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong - NantWorks