Reagan Jarvis, Anocca CEO

After slicing and dicing TCRs for 8 years, Swedish biotech reloads to angle for a spot in crowded cell therapy space

Södertälje, Sweden, the historic home to the Astra half of AstraZeneca, may seem an unlikely place for cutting-edge R&D on T cell receptors and cell therapies. And Reagan Jarvis — a transplant from New Zealand who had spent his academic years studying innate immune signaling — readily admits he doesn’t fit your usual mold for a biotech founder.

But that’s where Jarvis found himself eight years ago after meeting Mikael Blomqvist, a Swedish entrepreneur who asked him to pitch some ideas for a new company.

His proposal, in short, was about systematic industrialized analysis of T cell biology — putting together an automated matrix of assays to answer a long list of questions about a long list of TCRs. While the breakout success of CAR-T in blood cancers would soon sweep the biotech world, Jarvis saw at the time no empirical way to find and define what good tumor targets and TCRs look like.

Blomqvist, whom Jarvis describes as an industrialist, liked the idea. They co-founded a company named Anocca, and Blomqvist chipped in $30 million via his investment group Michano to get things started.

The unusually large seed financing — topped up later with a similarly sized Series A — has allowed Jarvis, the CEO, to “methodically” scale out the platform, anchored by seven core assay sets, and grow the team to 65. In a step up, the biotech has now reaped another $47 million from a bigger group of private and institutional investors led by Danske Bank.

Anocca bills itself, ultimately, as an analytics company whose platform can touch everything from vaccines to allergy meds. For the Series B, though, Jarvis expects to focus on pushing the lead candidates for TCR T cells toward the clinic.

“Traditionally T cell biology has been done with PBMC assays, Elispot, interferon release, and that is a biological readout, but it’s so high noise and so [low] reproducibility that it’s really hard to get quantitative accurate data,” Jarvis said. “So what we’ve done is strip out all the noise in the background, [make it] reproducible. It’s the same background every time, we get really good precision data, very high sensitivity.”

Some might argue that no amount of preclinical work could prepare you for surprises when the cells are administered to patients — as the CAR-T players at Tmunity learned in a fatal setback. But others subscribe to the philosophy that the more you can measure and quantify and design in the preclinical stage, the better.

The process at Anocca starts with various engineered cells, which the scientists manipulate to add receptors, HLAs or specific antigens. The resulting “analyte cells” they assemble are then sent through multiple custom tests, including a mass spectrometry-based target discovery, TCR characterization and safety profiling all the way to manufacturing QC.

Although the company is initially working on autologous cell therapies directed against well known targets like NY-ESO-1 — which GlaxoSmithKline is famously pursuing — Jarvis notes that others’ programs could only address limited patient populations due to HLA restrictions. On the other hand, the speed at which its platform identifies good TCRs means Anocca can quickly generate a library, or franchise, that is manufactured the same way but would be matched to different groups of patients.

“This comes back to how TCR T has to work,” he said. “I mean this is not a single asset for everybody. It’s going to be multiple assets for multiple patient segments.”

Sitting miles away from cell therapy hotspots in Boston, San Francisco or London, where VCs are reaching deep into their pockets to get in on ever more ambitious technologies, Jarvis is setting his own pace. Anocca has its own manufacturing capabilities, and it’s staying open to collaborations, whether it’s target characterization or clinical co-development.

“It’s one thing to say you’ve got several hundred million dollars in Boston,” he said. “That’s the same as a hundred million dollars in Södertälje, quite frankly, in terms of what things cost and HR expenses. So we’re happy with our funding position, we’re more than happy with our technology position. We think we are technical leaders and we have a differentiated scientific approach, and we don’t rely on predictive algorithms. We’re doing this empirically, it’s not a best guess. It’s actually real biology.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the name of Anocca’s co-founder, Mikael Blomqvist and correct spellings. 

Adaptive Design Methods Offer Rapid, Seamless Transition Between Study Phases in Rare Cancer Trials

Rare cancers account for 22 percent of cancer diagnoses worldwide, yet there is no universally accepted definition for a “rare” cancer. Moreover, with the evolution of genomics and associated changes in categorizing tumors, some common cancers are now characterized into groups of rare cancers, each with a unique implication for patient management and therapy.

Adaptive designs, which allow for prospectively planned modifications to study design based on accumulating data from subjects in the trial, can be used to optimize rare oncology trials (see Figure 1). Adaptive design studies may include multiple cohorts and multiple tumor types. In addition, numerous adaptation methods may be used in a single trial and may facilitate a more rapid, seamless transition between study phases.

Matt Gline (L) and Pete Salzmann

UPDATED: Roivant bumps stake in Immunovant with a $200M deal. But with M&A off the table, shares crater

Roivant has worked out a deal to pick up a chunk of stock in its majority-owned sub Immunovant $IMVT, but the stock buy falls far short of its much-discussed thoughts about buying out all of the 43% of shares it doesn’t already own.

Roivant, which recently inked a SPAC move to the market at a $7 billion-plus valuation, has forged a deal to boost its ownership in Immunovant by 6.3 points, ending with 63.8% of the biotech’s stock following a $200 million injection. That cash will bolster Immunovant’s cash reserves, giving it a $600 million war chest to fund a slate of late-stage studies for its big drug: the anti-FcRn antibody IMVT-1401.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 113,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sanofi preps a multibillion-dollar buyout of an mRNA pioneer after falling behind in the race for a Covid-19 jab — report

It looks like Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson is dead serious about his intention to vault directly into contention for the future of mRNA vaccines.

A year after paying Translate Bio a whopping $425 million in an upfront and equity payment to help guide the pharma giant to the promised land of mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, Sanofi is reportedly ready to close the deal with a buyout.

Translate’s stock $TBIO soared 78% after the market closed Monday. A spokesperson for Sanofi declined to comment on the report, telling Endpoints News that the company doesn’t comment on market rumors.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 113,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Anthony Sun, Zentalis and Zentera CEO (Zentalis)

With clinical trials lined up for Zentalis drugs, China's Zentera sets its sights on more dealmaking and an IPO

As Zentalis geared up for an AACR presentation of early data on its WEE1 inhibitor earlier this year, its Chinese joint venture Zentera wasn’t idle, either.

Zentera, which has headquarters in Shanghai, had already nabbed clearance to start clinical trials in China for three of the parent company’s drugs. In May — just a month after Zentalis touted three “exceptional responses” out of 55 patients for their shared lead drug, ZN-c3 — it got a fourth CTA approval.

Thomas Soloway, T-knife CEO

What happens when you give a mouse a human self-antigen? Investors bet $110M to find out

T-knife Therapeutics launched last August on a mission to isolate T cell receptors not from human donors, but from mice. Now, with a new CEO and a candidate bound for the clinic, the Versant-backed company is reloading with a fresh $110 million.

“What we are trying to do for the field of TCR therapy and solid tumor therapy is very analogous to what the murine platforms have done in antibody development,” CEO Thomas Soloway told Endpoints News. 

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 113,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UPDATED: Watch out GlaxoSmithKline: AstraZeneca's once-failed lupus drug is now approved

Capping a roller coaster journey, AstraZeneca has steered its lupus drug anifrolumab across the finish line.

Saphnelo, as the antibody will be marketed, is the only treatment that’s been approved for systemic lupus erythematosus since GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta clinched an OK in 2011. The British drugmaker notes it’s also the first to target the type I interferon receptor.

Mirroring the population that the drug was tested on in late-stage trials, regulators sanctioned it for patients with moderate to severe cases who are already receiving standard therapy — setting up a launch planned for the end of August, according to Ruud Dobber, who’s in charge of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals business unit.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 113,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Not all mRNA vaccines are created equal. Does it matter?; Neuro is back; Private M&A affair; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

As part of our broader and deeper drive, Endpoints has been pairing webinars with our special reports to cover more angles on a given topic. In conjunction with Max Gelman’s neuroscience feature, Kyle Blankenship moderated an insightful panel to discuss where the field is headed. You can register to watch it on demand here.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 113,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Bristol Myers pulls lymphoma indication for Istodax after confirmatory trial falls flat

Amid an industrywide review of cancer drugs with accelerated approval, Bristol Myers Squibb had to make the tough call last month to yank an approval for leading I/O drug Opdivo after flopping a confirmatory study. Now, a second Bristol Myers drug is on the chopping block.

Bristol Myers has pulled aging HDAC inhibitor Istodax’s indication in peripheral T cell lymphoma after a Phase III confirmatory study for the drug flopped on its progression-free survival endpoint, the drugmaker said Monday.

Rick Pazdur (via AACR)

FDA's oncology head Rick Pazdur defends the accelerated approval pathway, claiming it is 'under attack'

The FDA is sounding the alarm over its accelerated approval pathway as backlash continues over the recent nod in favor of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, and an ODAC meeting on six such approvals that could potentially be pulled from the market — two of which already have.

“Do you think accelerated approval is under attack? I do,” Rick Pazdur, head of FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence, said at a Friends of Cancer Research webinar on Thursday.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.