Engineering the next generation of immune cell therapeutics
CEO: Aya Jakobovits
Based: Menlo Park, CA
Clinical focus: Engineered immune cell treatments
The scoop: Adicet has a stellar pedigree, as does its founder, serial biotech exec Aya Jakobovits. She started the company alongside crossover healthcare investor OrbiMed. Jakobovits was just coming off a three-year stint as president and founding CEO of Kite Pharma ($KITE), a clinical-stage engineered T-cell therapy player that touts a valuation of about $3 billion. She joined deep-pocketed OrbiMed as a venture partner; Adicet was one of the projects she worked on there.
Prior to Kite, Jakobovits was EVP and head of R&D at antibody company Agensys, which was acquired by Astellas for up to $537 million in 2007, and director of discovery research and principal scientist at antibody player Abgenix, which was snapped up by Amgen ($AMGN) in 2005 for $2.2 billion. At Abgenix, she led the development of the company’s XenoMouse tech.
Adicet hasn’t revealed much about its own technology or targets. It aims to develop off-the-shelf immune cells with engineered chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) and T-cell receptors (TCRs). While engineered immunotherapies have shown some success in hematological cancers, Adicet is aiming for the tougher goal of solid tumor treatment and is also eyeing its potential in autoimmune disorders.
“We want an off-the-shelf drug that can be administered to different patients, which is expected to reduce costs,” Jakobovits told FierceBiotech. "The patients won’t have to wait until cells are expanded and engineered." Interestingly, Kite recently did a deal to move from autologous treatments derived from patient cells into off-the-shelf T-cell therapies.
What makes Adicet Fierce: Adicet has managed to attract the attention of major biopharmas in an increasingly crowded immunotherapy field. Only about 6 months after emerging from stealth mode in January with a $51 million Series A round, in which Novartis’ venture arm participated, Adicet secured a deal with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals ($REGN).
Adicet got $25 million up front under the Regeneron deal, which is a 5-year research collaboration to develop a pipeline of off-the-shelf engineered immune-cell therapeutics. The biopharma has the option to secure development and commercial rights to an undisclosed number of candidates, while Adicet has the option to participate in development and marketing--or to choose royalty payments--for them.
“We’ve had long-standing interests to be working with Aya Jakobovits who’s really leading Adicet,” said Regeneron Founding Scientist, President and CSO George Yancopoulos on an August conference call. "And obviously, she’s been in areas that we’ve been in. We have enormous respect for her, her capabilities. We believe that we have a lot of potential tools and starting points for making the sorts of targeting reagents that would be introduced into these cell therapies using our existing technologies such as our VelocImmune and our Veloci-Next technologies which really, nobody else in this field has access to right now.”
At the time of the Series A, Adicet also executed an acquisition of Israeli Applied Immune Technologies (AIT), which Jakobovits said will be key to expanding into other types of immunotherapies.
She cautions that a liability that will become more apparent in T-cell research is how important it is to ensure that immune cells bind to a tumor-specific target and not cells in normal tissues. The AIT deal will help ensure that Adicet has the capability to do that, Jakobovits said.
“To get tumor-specific targets, one has to go into the pool of intracellular targets--peptides which are being driven to the surface and expressed on the surface when complexed with MHC molecules. AIT has been a leader in the ability to generate monoclonal antibodies which bind specifically to peptide-MHC complexes on the cell surface. … This has allowed us to engineer our immune cell to targets which express only on tumors,” she said.
Continued Jakobovits, “In addition, because our capabilities in targeting peptide-MHC complexes tech are applicable not only to cancer, it allows us access to develop a product different pipeline that presents with a new modality for the treatment of in autoimmune diseases.”
Investors: OrbiMed, Novartis Venture Fund and Pontifax