Drug Development

Kite grabs a stem cell biology ‘breakthrough’ in race for off-the-shelf T cell therapies

Looking for an edge in the race to develop blockbuster off-the-shelf cell therapies to fight cancer, Kite Therapeutics has grabbed a license for new T cell tech from UCLA that the biotech believes can play a breakthrough role in the field of allogeneic drugs.

Kite’s rep in R&D has been based on the first generation of CAR-T drugs that extracts cells from patients and then customizes them with chimeric antigen receptors. Once infused back into patients, they’re designed to track down and eliminate cancer cells. And Kite has one of the most advanced programs now in a pivotal study.

But behind the first-gen drugs, Cellectis and others have been working on allogeneic therapies, adapting a stockpile of cells to do the same work without the expensive personalization process.

The hunt for that new, more efficient cell therapy led Kite to the lab of Gay M. Crooks at  UCLA. According to Kite, the platform uses stem cell biology to curate an ideal selection of T cells which can then be genetically engineered to make effective cancer therapies.

The first CAR-Ts from Juno, Kite and Novartis are all entering the last leg of clinical development. But as recent deaths in Juno’s JCAR015 study demonstrated, there are still serious safety issues to consider as well as limitations in terms of the type of cancers that can be treated and the extent of the patients who will benefit.

“This ATO system represents a significant breakthrough in stem cell biology that will drive our long-term strategy to develop best-in-class allogeneic T-cell therapies,” said David Chang, M.D., Ph.D., Kite’s R&D chief. “This platform provides a renewable source of T-cells and can be further exploited with gene engineering, including chimeric antigen receptors, T-cell receptors and other gene modifications of interest, to generate potent T-cell products that have the potential to be resistant to rejection and to bear no risk of graft-versus-host disease.”

There’s no word on terms, but all the leaders in this field have been willing to pay top dollar for new tech.

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