Academia, CAR-T, Collaborations

Atara brings another experienced investigator onto its off-the-shelf CAR-T quest in latest collaboration

An ambitious Atara has signed up another cancer research center to beef up its pipeline of off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies.

In the new collaboration, the Amgen spinoff $ATRA will “contribute resources and relevant experience to the research activities” at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. They will work closely with Marco Davila, a veteran researcher in the field who trained with top CAR-T investigator Michel Sadelain at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Marco Davila

Both of the CAR-T therapies currently on the market — Novartis’ Kymriah and Gilead’s Yescarta — target a single antigen called CD19. Like some other groups pursuing next-gen CAR-T drugs, Atara is hoping to engineer the T cells in a way that can tackle multiple targets, thereby addressing cancers with diverse cell types that often become resistant to treatment, such as acute myelogenous leukemia and B cell malignancies.

The partners will also look into novel co-stimulatory domains based on CD28 and 4-1BB, which are meant to improve the modified T cells’ anti-cancer activity.

Dietmar Berger

By combining Atara’s Epstein-Barr virus-specific “T-cell platform, development, manufacturing and regulatory expertise with cutting edge T-cell engineering discoveries by our external collaborators,” says R&D chief Dietmar Berger, this pact will build their preclinical CAR-T pipeline, which is currently supported by an extensive collaboration with MSK.

Berger, a Genentech vet, was brought in a few months ago to steer Atara’s allogeneic T cell immunotherapies through the clinic, both in CAR-T and other applications.

Atara’s most advanced program, tabelecleucel, or tab-cel, is being developed for patients with EBV-associated post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder, as well as other EBV-associated hematologic and solid tumors, including nasopharyngeal carcinoma).

“Atara is a leader in the development of off-the-shelf, allogeneic T-cell immunotherapies based on their novel EBV-specific T-cell technology platform,” said Davila in a statement. “I look forward to rapidly advancing our CAR T engineering and multi-antigen targeting technologies with Atara to address the high unmet need in patients with advanced AML and B-cell malignancies.”


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