Cellectis signs $760M milestone deal with NK upstart; Immunocore brings on AstraZeneca vet to shepherd bispecific launch plans
After nearly two decades as often one of the only companies developing off-the-shelf CAR-Ts, Cellectis has in recent years racked up big-name partnerships, including with Arie Belldegrun’s Allogene and French giant Servier.
Now they’ve teamed with a little known startup that has yet to announce a Series A: New York-based Cytovia Therapeutics. The two companies announced on Tuesday a deal to develop universal gene-edited natural killer cells and CAR-NK cells for solid tumors and other cancers.
Cytovia will be relying on technology Cellectis has built over the last 20 years as they look to build their own natural killer cell platform. To make their universal CAR-Ts, Cellectis takes T cells and manipulates them with TALENs, a gene editing system that developed before the advent of CRISPR and still has advantages in some areas.
Cytovia will give Cellectis $15 million in cash or equity, with $760 million in milestones, to develop TALENs that they can use to engineer iPSC stem cells into natural killer cell therapies. Cellectis CEO André Choulika said the deal was a chance to expand their gene editing technology into a new domain.
“Down the road, this collaboration should allow for NK cell therapies to be made available to cancer patients, which is very much in line with Cellectis’ mission to provide life-saving product candidates to address unmet patient needs in this field,” he said in a statement.
Daniel Teper, a longtime investor with PharmD, launched Cytovia in 2019, a few months before researchers at MD Anderson would show some of the first strong evidence that CAR-NKs could work in humans. Like T cells, NK cells have the ability to recognize and destroy cancerous cells. Crucially, though, they don’t trigger immune reactions when transferred between patients, making them a potential platform for off-the-shelf cell therapy.
Most NK developers, such as Celularity, derive their NK cells from donor umbilical cord blood. Cytovia will instead try to develop them in the lab from stem cells, relying on collaborations with the University of California, San Francisco, the New York Stem Cell Institute and now Cellectis. They are also developing a set of antibodies designed to bridge a patient’s own NK cells to their tumors.
The first two programs are set to be in the clinic later this year, with two more following in 2022. — Jason Mast
Immunocore brings on an AstraZeneca vet as bispecific launch nears
As it prepares for the potential commercial launch of tebentafusp, its I/O T cell receptor bispecific, UK-based Immunocore has tapped an AstraZeneca veteran to help shepherd the process.
Immunocore has added Ralph Torbay as its head of commercial, hoping to lean on his Big Pharma expertise. During a four-year stint at AstraZeneca, Torbay helped launch three oncology meds, Immunocore said, and helped develop the drugmaker’s hematology portfolio.
Torbay led the global launch for lung cancer med Imfinzi as well as Tagrisso, another lung cancer drug targeting EGFR. While serving as global head of hematology at the company, Torbay also helped build the commercial infrastructure for Calquence.
Prior to AstraZeneca, Torbay led “several high-profile pipeline integrations and product launches” with Novartis Oncology.
“The impressive quality of data already published for tebentafusp clearly demonstrates its potential as a new breakthrough treatment for metastatic uveal melanoma patients, an underserved group where new therapies are urgently needed,” Torbay said in a statement. “This is a testament to the excellence of Immunocore’s pioneering science and underlines the potential of our bispecific immunotherapies across a range of indications.”
In tandem with Torbay’s hiring, Immunocore will also add Roy Herbst, a director at the Yale Cancer Center, to its board of directors. Herbst previously served on Immunocore’s scientific advisory board. — Kyle Blankenship
Iterion raises $17M Series B for solid tumors
Iterion has spent the past few years trying to drug β-catenin, a common oncogene that drug developers have long struggled to hit, because it lacks an easy binding site. They will now have some extra cash to do so, raising $17 million in a Series B led by Lumira Ventures.
Iterion will use the cash to advance their drug, tegavivint, in trials for a handful of cancers, including desmoid tumors, AML and non-small cell lung cancer.
Rather than go after β-catenin directly, Iterion tries to block TBL1, a protein β-catenin engages to drive tumor growth. — Jason Mast
Beyond Air wins $2M+ grant for nitric oxide treatment
Beyond Air has some new grant money to play with.
The Garden City, NY-based company announced Tuesday it has received a $2.17 million grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to advance development for an inhaled nitric oxide treatment for NTM pulmonary disease. Funds will be directed toward a pilot study of a high concentration formulation of the program.
“We are grateful to receive funding support from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” CEO Steve Lisi said in a statement. “To date, our NTM program has produced data from four compassionate use patients and nine patients from a previous pilot study.”
The new study is a 12-week, single-arm trial in Australia expected to enroll about 20 CF or non-CF bronchiectasis patients with certain types of lung infections. Beyond Air said it expects to report interim data around the middle of 2021, which will be followed by topline data roughly six months later. — Max Gelman