The battleship Gilead has added a small but potentially remarkable biotech tug boat to its fast-growing cell therapy drug fleet.
The biopharma powerhouse’s CAR-T company Kite is allying with tiny Gadeta in the Netherlands, inking a deal to collaborate on its gamma delta TCR tech, funding research and lining up an option to buy them out if it all works out.
Details are scant. Gadeta was seeded by Medicxi out of London, which also joined Baxalta Ventures on a slim $8 million launch round in 2016. Now with a staff in the 20s, Gadeta is still preclinical, but lining up a shot at a critical human study for solid tumors in 2020. And Gilead/Kite is hoping that Gadeta — specializing in the highly specific gamma delta field — will open up a world of new opportunities in oncology.
“By going after gamma delta TCRs you’re opening up a universe of targets” that are now off the CAR-T radar, says Giovanni Mariggi, a principal on Medicxi’s venture team. And beating down the hurdles to solid tumors remains a Holy Grail in the cell therapy field.
“In liquid tumors things are working,” says Mariggi. “In this space in general the real excitement is the solid tumor part of the story.”
Gilead’s cancer R&D chief Alessandro Riva noted that the company has been eager to snap up new tech platforms as it grows its cell therapy division at Kite. And their involvement here is another signal that more deals are coming.
Gilead is betting its cash on the original research of Jürgen Kuball, the chief scientific officer of Gadeta, who also works at the University Medical Center Utrech.
This deal represents exactly where Medicxi’s David Grainger likes to play. They love to identify new tech, come up with a budget plan to execute on research, and see if one of the major players will recognize the upside of what they’re doing. It’s a world away from the mega-rounds that have been pumping into biotech startups over the past year.
“We make our dollars go a little further,” says Mariggi with a chuckle. And in this case, that strategy has worked like a charm.
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