Cellectis is a Paris based biotechnology company, (NYSE alternext: ALCLS.PA) with an aspiring “blue ocean” strategy that, if successful, could revolutionize cancer immunotherapy.
The potential of using engineered T-cells (known as chimeric antigen receptors) to fight cancer was highlighted by the impressive data presented at last year’s annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH 2013).
To many, the data for the U Penn/Novartis engineered T-Cell therapy (CTL019) in pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (pALL) was worthy of presentation in the plenary session at the meeting.
Over the past year, investors have poured money into companies active in the field: we’ve written about the launch of Juno Therapeutics and their intellectual property (IP) dispute with Novartis. More recently Kite Pharma had a successful IPO.
Why was Biotech Strategy Blog keen to interview Cellectis Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) Philippe Duchateau, PhD and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) André Choulika, PhD (picture left and right respectively)?
The answer is they have a completely new and innovative approach to CAR-T cell therapy that in the long run could be a “game changer.” Their lead product (UCART19) is an allogeneic CAR T cell for ALL and CLL. Allogeneic means the T cells that are modified come from a donor. This is in contrast to the autologous approaches that Kite, Novartis and Juno are developing where the engineered CAR-T cells come from the patient themselves.
All credit to Pfizer for seeing the potential in a company that has been on our radar for a while. They recently announced a major collaboration with Cellectis that could turn both Cellectis and Pfizer into major players in the cancer immunotherapy space.
In this fast moving R&D space there are already signs of where competition to Cellectis may come from, and it’s not Novartis, Juno or Kite.
Subscribers and those with an interest in CAR-T cell immunotherapy can login or sign-up below to read more, including excerpts of the interview at Cellectis HQ in Paris:
Cancer immunotherapy was described in the December 20, 2013 issue of Science magazine as their Breakthrough of the Year, but really, we are just scratching the surface of what can be achieved.
“We are at beginning of a REVOLUTION in immunotherapy,” said Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD at the start of American Society of Clinical Oncology GastroIntestinal (ASCO GI) symposium keynote lecture on Immunologic Treatments for GI Cancers.
Elizabeth M Jaffee, MD
Jaffee likened the revolution in immunotherapy to the same excitement the Beatles brought to music, or the same magnitude of technology advances made by Apple.
Dr Jaffee is the Dana and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli Professor of Oncology at Johns Hopkins, and has developed a number of vaccines including GVAX, which is currently licensed to Aduro Biotech.
Subscribers to Premium Content can login to read more about Dr Jaffee’s keynote lecture at ASCO GI.
The Inquirer yesterday reported on Philly.com that start-up Juno Therapeutics (Juno) are now in control of a legal dispute between St Jude Children’s Hospital (St Jude) and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) over chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) intellectual property that contributed to the development of CTL019, licensed by Penn to Novartis. Thanks to @lomu_j for sharing this news on Twitter.
According to the Inquirer, last month Juno entered an agreement with St Jude to commercialize their CAR T-cell technology, which gave them the right to “control, pursue and defend” the dispute between Penn and St Jude. On December 18, Juno’s intervention was approved in Federal District Court in Philadelphia.
(Update Jan 10: Zack Seward (@ZackSeward) provides additional commentary on WHYY Philadelphia newsworks on “The high-stakes legal fight over a ‘cancer cure from Penn.’ He reports that St Jude have every confidence in their patent.
Subscribers can read my analysis of the case below.
Immuno-oncology is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in cancer research following the approval of the anti-CTLA4 checkpoint antibody, ipilimumab, in advanced melanoma, as well as emerging solid data from anti-PD-1 and PD-L1 antibodies in melanoma, lung and renal cancer at ASCO in June.
The big question on many people’s minds though, is what other checkpoint inhibitors are out there and can they safely be used either as single agents or in combination with the above agents, or even with existing standard of care combinations (chemotherapy and targeted therapies)?
I have long argued that what will really make a difference in this space is combinations and the ability of sponsors to successfully evaluate novel-novel agents in clinical trials. After all, BMS have a huge advantage with ipilimumab and the ability to combine it with their PD-1 or other immunotherapeutics, since their rivals will be greatly hampered by the $120K per person price tag for the commercial drug required as part of clinical trial costs.
This means most companies in this space are looking at other options in the search for better outcomes.
At the AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets conference in Boston this week, the last day was devoted to two sessions in immune-oncology and one of the plenary sessions included Dr Susan Topalian discussing an update on nivolumab and anti-PD-1/L1 therapies post ASCO. There was also ample opportunity to discuss immunotherapy with the many attendees in the busy poster sessions.
The first immunotherapy session on Weds morning particularly caught my attention and it seems a good opportunity to summarize some of the key observations emerging in this field. Here are my detailed notes from the session, which raise a lot of fascinating questions from the presenters about this field and – more importantly – where it’s going: