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.
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.