Building up its I/O ops, CRISPR Therapeutics allies with Marcela Maus at Mass General

Marcela V. Maus

CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP is allying with some top immuno-oncology researchers at Mass General to collaborate on some new gene editing working aimed at creating a new and better generation of T cell therapies.

The biotech — based in Switzerland with a big research group in Cambridge, MA — has tied the partnership knot with Marcela V. Maus, who runs the cellular immunotherapy group at Mass General. She’ll be using the biotech’s pioneering CRISPR/Cas9 tech to see how it works in building a new-and-improved T cell therapy — just as the original models appear poised to hit the market later in the year.

This is by no means the first such gene editing effort in I/O, but it does reflect the company’s continuing effort to build a pipeline of I/O drugs. They hired Jon Terrett (a vet at the South San Francisco-based cancer biotech CytomX) to run the operation on I/O back in February and struck a deal with MaSTherCell SA on making their CAR-T CTX101, targeting CD19 cancers. And they believe that they have potential for next-gen therapies that can work in both liquid as well as solid tumors — the Holy Grail in I/O now.

A little more than a year ago Carl June and his team at the University of Pennsylvania, backed by The Parker Institute, obtained permission to run the first gene editing experiment for an immunotherapy with human subjects. That project involved using CRISPR in 18 subjects, extracting T cells and then editing them to add a protein that recognizes cancer cells and issues an attack order, then edit out a protein that interferes with the attack and finally disable the cloaking mechanism cancer cells use to hide from the immune system.

“We have already seen the profound benefit that T cell therapies can have for certain patients with a specific set of tumor types,” said Maus in a prepared statement. “Now the potential with gene editing, and specifically CRISPR/Cas9, exists to create improved versions of these cells that may work for a wider variety of patients with a more diverse set of tumor types. I’m glad to see the commitment CRISPR Therapeutics is making to this area, and am excited to collaborate with them.”

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