CRISPR/Cas9 pioneer Chad Cowan enlists in Mustang Bio’s CAR-T quest

Chad Cowan

The tech race spawned by a blockbuster scramble to the top of the emerging CAR-T sector has inspired a tie-up between one of the pioneering scientists involved with CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and an up-and-comer cancer drug developer that is working on a game plan to overtake the leaders — which are way out front right now.

The scientist is Chad Cowan, a researcher at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute who allied early on with the CRISPR/Cas9 team that launched CRISPR Therapeutics under gene editing star Emmanuelle Charpentier.

In a new deal announced this morning, Cowan has signed on to handle the preclinical work for new drugs slated to join the pipeline at a well-financed Mustang Bio $MBIO. And Mustang also in-licensed CRISPR/Cas9 tech from Harvard to use on off-the-shelf CAR-T drugs as Novartis and Gilead/Kite roll out the first personalized drugs in the field. Cowan will do the research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Manny Litchman

Mustang CEO Manny Litchman told me recently that the next generation of CAR-T drugs to hit the market can be both more effective and cheaper when it comes to treating blood cancers and solid tumors, a key part of the off-the-shelf effort that looks to supplant the expensive landmark therapies made from each patient’s cells.

“Look in the black box of manufacturing,” Litchman told me, and you can see “dozens of parameters that can vary.”

Enlisting Cowan, a scientific founder at CRISPR Therapeutics, is a big plus at this early stage of the game for Mustang.

Litchman is the former head of oncology BD at Novartis, where he was present at the creation of the Penn/Novartis deal that set the pharma giant down the path toward an historic CAR-T approval. He was program head of CTL019 for awhile. And he’s following in much the same path that the pioneers — along with Kite and Juno — did, letting the scientific founders do the early-stage research work that will be used to set up the fast-paced pivotal development programs to come.

In Mustang’s case, that also involves Stephen Forman’s laboratory at City of Hope National Medical Center and top researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where Oliver Press and Brian Till have been building a T cell therapy which expresses a CD20-specific chimeric antigen receptor. That work has expanded Mustang’s pipeline to 6 clinical and preclinical efforts.

Says Litchman:

CRISPR/Cas9’s demonstrated precision may enable us to more effectively and accurately deliver our CAR T therapies and to enhance the tumor killing ability and persistence of the CAR T cells in the patient’s body, which could lead to safer and more potent treatments. We look forward to working with Dr. Cowan and his team on this exciting collaboration to accelerate the development of the next generation of CAR T therapies.

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