AbbVie taps Jennifer Doudna startup for licensing deal worth up to $300M for 2 'off-the-shelf' CRISPR-edited CAR-Ts
“Off-the-shelf” CAR-Ts have emerged as a hot-ticket target in next-gen oncology R&D, with Big Pharmas placing big down payments on novel tech. Now, a California biotech player founded by one of the CRISPR movement’s most prominent mouthpieces has added major drugmaker AbbVie as a teammate.
AbbVie will pay Caribou Biosciences $40 million in upfront cash and $300 million in biobucks to develop two of the biotech’s allogeneic CAR-T therapies, the partners said Wednesday. The biotech will also be due royalty payments for any future commercial assets.
Caribou, co-founded by CRISPR maven Jennifer Doudna and headed by one of Doudna’s acolytes, Rachel Haurwitz, uses hybrid DNA/RNA editing technology dubbed chRDNA — pronounced “chardonnay” for the wine drinkers — the biotech believes can stop off-target editing common to current CRISPR applications.
AbbVie will have the option to pay an extra fee for access to two additional CAR-T programs, Caribou said.
On a call with Endpoints News, Haurwitz declined to comment on what drew AbbVie to Caribou’s technology or what therapeutic areas the drugmaker wanted to target with the potential CAR-Ts. That’s not unusual: AbbVie is usually cagey with its early development deals.
Instead, the young CEO — just 35 and one of the leading voices in the CRISPR movement — touted her platform’s potential to rework current limitations on allogeneic CAR-Ts, including patients’ immune systems rejecting donor cells. The effects could be most apparent, however, in manufacturing, a chronically expensive and time consuming process for CAR-Ts.
Unlike traditional CAR-Ts, which require companies to re-engineer patients cells that are often damaged after chemotherapy and past therapies, allogeneic therapies can use donor cells that are healthier and faster to administer.
“It really has tremendous advantages from a timing perspective,” Haurwitz said. “There are of course really nice advantages in terms of quality and cost of goods.”
Allogeneic cell therapies are among the hottest fields in next-gen oncology, and AbbVie — one of the four largest drugmakers on earth — is seeking to take a modest-sized bet out on Caribou’s stout reputation and clinical potential.
The biotech has two lead programs: CB-010, an anti-CD19 CAR-T that deletes PD-1 currently in a Phase I trial, and CB-011, a preclinical asset that hopes to utilize “immune cloaking” to avoid the human immune system, Haurwitz said.