Patrick Baeuerle has been busy. Right after steering next-gen BiTE company Harpoon Therapeutics toward an IPO, the MPM partner and immunologist is shepherding another oncology company with preclinical assets — TCR2 Therapeutics — into a public listing. And this time the biotech is looking for $100 million-plus in a market that’s been on a wild roller coaster ride.
The immunotherapy company is developing next-gen T-cell drugs for cancer in an effort to confront limitations posed by current T-cell and CAR-T therapies in solid tumors.
One of the key components of the immune system are T cells, which obliterate cancer cells by using T cell receptor (TCR) recognition of cell surface markers known as antigens. When a T cell recognizes a tumor antigen via the TCR, it snuffs the malignant cell on which it resides. Existing T cell therapies for cancer, including CAR-T cells and engineered TCR-T cells, attempt to replicate this mechanism.
The drug developer’s technology — called TRuC-T cells — is designed to recognize and kill cancer cells by harnessing the TCR signaling complex, unlike CAR-T for instance, which only taps into a part of the TCR structure. In contrast to existing T cell therapies, the TCR2 technology is fashioned such that it could be used across patients that express the cancer surface antigen irrespective of human leukocyte antigens (HLA) subtype, which could potentially address a larger group of patients.
The company has 5 drugs in its arsenal. Its lead candidate — TC-210 — is being developed to target mesothelin-positive solid tumors. An application to test the drug in humans was submitted in December and the company expects to conduct a Phase I/II study early in 2019, and eventually apply for the FDA’s fast track status. Its second drug, TC-110, is being evaluated for CD19-positive B-cell hematological malignancies. An IND is expected to be filed in the second half of 2019 and the company will also seek a fast track designation for this asset. The rest — TC-220, TC-310 and TC-410 — are in earlier stages of preclinical development.
TCR2 will have two experienced scientific minds working on their pipeline in the clinic: Robert Hofmeister, who developed one of the first PD-L1 inhibitors — Bavencio — while at EMD Serono, will serve as CSO, while Alfonso Quintás Cardama, who was pivotal in the approval process for one of the two licensed T cell therapies for hematological malignancies — Novartis’ Kymriah — will serve as CMO.
The company will be listed on the Nasdaq under the symbol $TCRR, according to the S-1 posted last week. TCR2 was founded by Baeuerle, a partner at MPM who previously served as CSO at Micromet before it was swallowed by Amgen. Baeuerle was ushered into Amgen — where R&D was then run by Roger Perlmutter — following the buyout, to help take Micromet’s Blincyto across the finish line.
TCR2 also worked closely with Mitchell Finer, an MPM Capital executive partner who has decades of cell therapy manufacturing experience, including the design of GMP processes for bluebird bio and Cell Genesys. Overall, just under half of the 30 companies MPM has invested in are oncology-focused.
So far, TCR2 has raised roughly $170 million from investors, including MPM Capital, F2 Ventures, Dimensions Capital, ArrowMark Partners, Cathay Fortune Capital, Curative Ventures, Hillhouse Capital Group, MiraeAsset Financial Group and Redmile Group. Prior to the IPO, MPM has the biggest holding with a 19.18% stake, and F2 is a runner up with a 15.97% stake.
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