ESMO: Will Adaptimmune's SPEAR-T results in a rare sarcoma appease investors?

Adaptimmune’s shares have dropped 70% this year, as a few key executives have departed amid disappointing clinical results for the company’s SPEAR-T cells to treat solid tumors. Now, the company is rolling out phase 1 data for its lead product it hopes will accelerate its push toward commercialization.

The company presented data from an ongoing phase 1 trial of ADP-A2M4 at the annual European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress in Barcelona. The therapy, which is made from T cells taken from individual patients, is being tested in 12 patients with synovial sarcoma. The company said that seven of the patients had a partial response to the treatment and four had stable disease.

The announcement was an update to data reported in May from the same trial, at which point only 3 of 8 patients assessed had achieved partial responses.

Elliot Norry, Adaptimmune’s interim chief medical officer, said in a statement that the new data, plus the FDA’s recent decision to grant orphan drug designation to ADP-A2M4, are “important positive steps to expedite further development” of the product.

SPEAR-T cells are made by collecting blood from patients, isolating two types of immune cells—CD4 and CD8 T cells—and genetically modifying them to optimize their ability to bind to receptors in a way that allows them to recognize and clear cancer cells. ADP-A2M4 is directed at an antigen called MAGE, which is expressed in several solid tumors.

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The first generation of cell therapies, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell treatments, have revolutionized the treatment of blood cancers but have been difficult to translate to solid tumors. Adaptimmune is betting on T-cell receptor (TCR) technology to fill that void. In addition to ADP-A2M4, the company is developing TCR treatments for lung cancer, liver cancer and several other tumor types.

The company has hit some bumps along the way, including a partial clinical hold on a GlaxoSmithKline-partnered therapy and, more recently, the retirement of its CEO and departure of its head of research and development. But Adaptimmune is still working toward a 2022 commercialization of ADP-A2M4, which is a wholly owned asset.

Adaptimmune is among several biotechs working on TCR products to address solid tumors. They include TScan Therapeutics, which launched in July with $48 million to commercialize a cell-therapy platform for treating solid tumors that was developed at Harvard University. Another player in the space, TMunity Therapeutics, recently partnered with the University of California, San Francisco to develop a TCR treatment for a rare type of brain tumor called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

Adaptimmune has started a phase 2 trial of ADP-A2M4 in sarcoma. It also has a separate phase 1 trial of the cell therapy combined with radiation, and it has started evaluating a follow-up SPEAR-T cell treatment in sarcoma and other tumors.