Cell Medica announced that is has partnered with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, to develop cutting-edge technologies for engineered immune cells with an enhanced ability to treat solid tumors.
The partnership agreement provides Cell Medica, based in London, with exclusive license over several cell and gene technologies developed at Baylor, with an option to license new products among the genetically engineered immune cells developed through the collaboration by Baylor’s research team.
This effort will build on recent and ongoing collaborations between Baylor and Cell Medica, supported by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), for the development of baltaleucel-T as a potential treatment for a range of cancers associated with the oncogenic Epstein Barr virus. It will also build on the recent clinical success of advanced chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to enable human immune cells to recognize and kill cancer cells that express tumor-associated antigens.
Under the development plan, Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell technology will be used to modify natural killer T-cells (NKT) as novel immune cell types possessing biological properties that might prove effective in targeting solid tumors. NKT cells have been shown to infiltrate tissues where solid tumors grow, and to kill both malignant cells and cancer-enabling cells (for example, tumor-associated macrophages).
The agreement also covers genetically modified T-cell receptors (TCR) for use in NKT cells and T-cells. These product concepts are designed to combine the targeting characteristics of CAR and TCR technologies with functional genetic engineering focused on enabling modified immune cells to override the inhibitory mechanisms used by tumor cells to evade immune responses. Cell Medica said that it expects the collaboration to result in the development of a “significant number” of new products for its cellular immunotherapy pipeline.
How the Partnership Will Work
Cell Medica and Baylor will build on and accelerate pioneering preclinical work done by Dr. Leonid Metelitsa, a Baylor professor of Pediatrics–Oncology, into the therapeutic efficacy of functionally enhanced CAR-modified NKT cells in cancer models. Dr. Metelitsa and his team of investigators are affiliated with the Texas Children’s Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Cell and Gene Therapy (CAGT), Texas Children’s Hospital, and Houston Methodist Hospital. Baylor’s CAGT has conducted more than 40 clinical studies investigating cellular immunotherapies as a therapeutic strategy for cancer treatment.
Under the agreement, Baylor will conduct more preclinical and Phase 1 clinical trials under the guidance of a Joint Steering Committee composed of members from both organizations. Cell Medica will work in parallel with Baylor to support early product development, drawing on its experience in the manufacture of clinical-grade cell therapies. Upon successful completion of Phase 1 studies, investigative products will be turned over to Cell Medica, which will handle later-stage clinical development and commercialization.
Funding will be made available to Baylor research teams, working on new therapeutic products based on modified NKT cells, other immune cell research, or to improving manufacturing systems.
Baylor’s Innovation Development Center (IDC), led by Andrew Wooten, executive director for Research Business Development and Strategy, has assisted in structuring the collaboration, and will be responsible for Baylor’s contribution to its management. Part of the IDC’s responsibilities will be identification of complementary technologies under research and development in ongoing Baylor research programs, which may be added to the development plan.
Initially, five product programs are included in the development plan, in addition to a general process technology program. Preclinical development work for two of these programs will be conducted by Drs. Gianpietro Dotti and Barbara Savoldo at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Joint Steering Committee will, on a regular basis, review new product opportunities.
“We are very pleased to partner with Cell Medica in a collaboration aimed at unlocking the huge potential of cellular immunotherapy for the benefit of cancer patients,” Dr. Adam Kuspa, senior vice president and dean for Research at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a release. “The co-development partnership represents a novel aspect of this collaboration which will fully engage Baylor in the early stage development work, including Phase I studies.”
“This collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine will place Cell Medica at the forefront of new product concepts for CAR-modified immune cells,” Gregg Sando, Cell Medica CEO, added. “Baylor’s leading research capability in this field should add significantly to our pipeline of high value products targeting cancer types that do not respond to conventional treatments.”
License, Option and Co-development Structure
Cell Medica has entered into a License and Option Agreement for two platform patents related to engineered NKT cells, three target cancer antigens for CAR-modified NKT cells and a T-cell receptor (TCR) technology. Additionally, Baylor and Cell Medica have signed an agreement under which Cell Medica will fund research aimed at new products, concepts, and technologies with both oncology and non-oncology applications, and is granted exclusive option to license products developed within the partnership.
Cell Medica is paying an upfront fee for these exclusive licensing arrangements, and will make additional payments associated with exercising its option to license future products. Baylor is eligible to receive further payments related to late-stage clinical, regulatory approval and sales milestones, as well as single-digit royalties deriving from successful development of specific products. Part of these upfront payments will be in the form of Cell Medica preference shares, which can be converted into common shares. Specific financial terms were not disclosed.
Baylor College of Medicine
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