Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Cellectis’

HMS VictoryThe dog days of summer are usually quiet on the Pharmaland front, although this year has been a bit of an exception, being notable for a batch of deals being completed and announced already.

The cell therapy space is one area that has courted both controversy and new collaborations, for example. Nary a week seems to pass without something appearing in the news! This has proven pretty interesting for a number of subscribers, who write in asking plenty of astute questions.

Today’s questions from BSB readers therefore encompass allogeneic cell therapies and what’s going on in that fast moving dynamic space.  Not all of the announcements may be what they seem though, and some are much more riskier than others.

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This morning, like many folks, I woke up to the latest immuno-oncology news on the bispecific front that Xencor, a Los Angeles based biotech, announced their latest collaboration, this time with Novartis.

Over the last few years, we have seen a surfeit of bispecifics emerge that are focused on stimulating the immune system, particularly with regard to T cells and natural killer (NK) cells, as well as antigen targets on the surface of tumours. The first one approved was Amgen’s blinatumomab (Blincyto), a CD19 targeted bispecific for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which we have written extensively about.

Xencor logoThe Xencor/Novartis deal has a number of interesting implications that are well worth exploring in more depth that go far beyond the information provided in the press release.

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It’s that time of the month where the BSB readers get their chance to put us on the hot spot!

SITC 2015 Land GrabHere, we take a look at reader questions that have been submitted and argue the toss – is there evidence preclinically or clinically that is useful or instructive?

We can’t promise to answer every question, sometimes there simply isn’t any data to help either way.

This week, the topic is CAR T cell therapies, a subject that seems to be very high on many people’s minds and many of you had similar questions, so here goes…  

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The immuno-oncology space continues to get both interesting and also very crowded with over 20 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies now in development. Originally, the excitement began with the University of Pennsylvania’s dramatic announcement regarding the first two advanced CLL patients they successfully treated, leading to a collaboration with Novartis and spurring a new ‘arms race’ development in this niche.

While most of the CAR T cell therapy data since has largely focused on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and to a lesser extent, non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL), many have been wondering what was happening on the CLL front?  Has hope been abandoned there or will we see a renaissance occur?  It is of particular relevance with the Abbvie/Genentech announcement that venetoclax has positive data in CLL patients who have the Del17p mutation and filing is likely here in this subset soon.  Therapies such as ibrutinib and idelalisib are already approved in refractory CLL and may also have a future role to play here.

Do we need suicide switches for CAR T cell therapies such as Bellicum and Cellectis are developing or not?

Meanwhile, other hematologic malignancies are also being explored, including multiple myeloma. Why would a CD19 CAR work in a disease long considered to be CD19-negative in advanced, refractory disease?

Carl June UPenn

Dr Carl June, U Penn

What about progress with solid tumours? Many commentators and investors have been highly sceptical of the chances of success here following the advent of positive checkpoint data beyond metastatic melanoma and early CAR data in mesothelin cancers.

To answer these questions and also get a flavour for where things are headed with CAR T cell therapies, we recently interviewed one of the leading experts in this field, Dr Carl June (U Penn).

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At ASCO 2014, one of the posters that attracted a lot of attention was the one from Kite Pharma ($KITE) on their rapid cell expansion (RACE) technology for the production of engineered autologous T cell therapy.

Dr Renier Brentjens at 2012 Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium

As regular blog readers will know, we’ve been following the development of CD19-targeted T cells for the treatment of B cell malignancies such as CLL, ALL and aggressive NHL for some time.

Back in Autumn 2012, at the Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium (CFS) in NYC, more commonly known as the “Greenspan” meeting after the late Dr Ezra Greenspan, we heard presentations on early CAR-T cell data from Dr Renier Brentjens (pictured right) of Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and Dr Michael Kalos from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).

At ASH 2012, we wrote about the data presented by Dr Carl June in the Ernest Beutler Prize Lecture. Dr Blazar, who jointly received the award, gave this quote from Dr Beutler, which is a reminder of why basic science is worthy of funding, and how important it is to innovation:

“The tendency to merely elaborate on what many others are doing arises, at least in part, from the almost universal misconception that our understanding of nature is profound, that most or all of the basic concepts have already been discovered, and that success in science consists of filling in the blanks with large teams of collaborators.”

What started off as pure academic research, has within a short period of time, become a hot (if not the hottest) area of immunotherapy drug development as inspired by the potential of early data, companies and investors pour money into commercializing CAR-T cell therapy.

Novartis had obtained the exclusive rights to Penn’s CTL019 CAR-T cell therapy in August 2012 at what now seems a bargain price.

Juno Therapeutics was subsequently created with $176M in Series A private equity funding at the end of 2013 to commercialize the CAR-T cell research of Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Last week brought further development with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) from Kite Pharma who have a collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Kite said they expected to raise $106M at a share price of $17, which was at the high end of the range. The shares soared 70% in initial trading, and closed at $29 on Friday.

To throw more fuel into the competitive fire, Pfizer have announced the signing of an agreement with French company, Cellectis, to collaborate on the development of their CAR-T cell technology.

In this first of a series of blog posts on gems from the ASCO poster hall, we take a look at the data presented by Kite Pharma and some of the challenges and opportunities the company faces.

Please note this post offers no investment advice and makes no recommendation on whether you should buy or sell shares in $KITE.

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