Fol­low­ing CAR-T pi­o­neer­s' foot­steps, Tes­sa launch­es Chi­na JV in $120M deal

These days just about every biotech se­ri­ous about glob­al de­vel­op­ment — and not just com­mer­cial­iza­tion — has a Chi­na strat­e­gy. Tes­sa Ther­a­peu­tics, a Bay­lor as­so­ci­at­ed out­fit based out of Sin­ga­pore, is no ex­cep­tion.

An­drew Khoo Tes­sa

Tak­ing a page out of the CAR-T pi­o­neers’ play­book, Tes­sa is es­tab­lish­ing a joint ven­ture with Chi­na-Sin­ga­pore Guangzhou Knowl­edge City, which is ini­tial­ly putting down $40 mil­lion for a 13% stake with $40 mil­lion more to come in a sec­ond stage. The biotech, which now re­tains an 87% con­trol, is al­so rolling out its own con­tri­bu­tions in two phas­es, start­ing with $20 mil­lion and all its tech­nol­o­gy li­cense rights for Chi­na.

The Knowl­edge City, a de­vel­op­er formed by con­sor­tia of Chi­nese and Sin­ga­pore­an groups, is al­so bring­ing lo­cal knowl­edge and re­la­tion­ships to the ta­ble, a spokesper­son tells me.

The JV will be the sole Chi­na li­censee of Tes­sa’s for re­search, clin­i­cal and com­mer­cial pur­pos­es — an es­pe­cial­ly pop­u­lar ap­proach among cell ther­a­py de­vel­op­ers keen to re­tain own­er­ship while lean­ing on a lo­cal play­er for ac­cess to an in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed tri­al space.

Be­fore it be­came part of Gilead, Kite teamed up with Fo­s­un to cre­ate a JV in which the Chi­nese part­ner con­tributed $60 mil­lion for 50/50 rights to Kite’s CAR-T ther­a­pies. Juno — sub­se­quent­ly ac­quired by Cel­gene, which was then ac­quired by Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb — went to WuXi AppTec for a sim­i­lar set­up. And in a per­haps less­er known ex­am­ple, Zio­pharm On­col­o­gy and Tri­Arm Ther­a­peu­tics have al­so launched their own op­er­a­tion to ad­vance a CAR-T in Chi­na.

While Tes­sa’s big idea is about adapt­ing virus-spe­cif­ic T cells to swarm can­cer, one of the key prod­ucts is a CAR-T com­posed with these cells that it says can achieve bet­ter sol­id tu­mor pen­e­tra­tion and per­sist for longer in the body.

The biotech re­cent­ly high­light­ed some pre­clin­i­cal re­sults demon­strat­ing the promise of its HER2-tar­get­ed “all-in-one” treat­ment reg­i­men, which in­volves first the in­jec­tion of an on­colyt­ic ade­n­ovirus in­to a tu­mor site then sys­tem­at­ic can­cer cell clear­ance by the CAR-T. In head and neck squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma xenograft mod­els, Tes­sa re­ports, the com­bi­na­tion im­proved sur­vival to >100 days com­pared to ap­prox­i­mate­ly 25 days with ei­ther ap­proach alone.

For the JV, next steps will in­clude ex­pand­ing Tes­sa’s clin­i­cal tri­al net­work as well as ramp­ing up op­er­a­tions in Chi­na to run pro­grams fo­cused on preva­lent can­cers in the coun­try. The added clin­i­cal ex­e­cu­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ty should ad­vance the glob­al strat­e­gy, the spokesper­son added.

Im­age: Tes­sa

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Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

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