Drug Development

Novartis takes the long view on CAR-T, grabbing licenses on new tech for next-gen therapies

After lining up their application for a pioneering CAR-T therapy, Novartis’ $NVS cell therapy group is demonstrating some longterm interest in the field, bagging licensing deals on new tech to help deliver their therapy as well as focus on next-gen off-the-shelf cell therapies that are forming in a second wave of experimental programs.

Early this morning the Belgian biotech Celyad $CYAD announced that Novartis had gained non-exclusive rights to IP it has on allogeneic CAR-Ts, off-the-shelf cell therapies for cancer that many believe could eventually prove superior to the autologous programs now lining up for an approval from Kite and Novartis. The lead autologous drugs extract T cells from patients and then engineer them into therapies targeting cancer cells. Allogeneic CAR-Ts will use generic T cells, but have to be able to avoid being rejected by the host — a major challenge.

Cambridge, MA-based bluebird $BLUE then followed up with its news of a non-exclusive license with Novartis covering “certain bluebird patent rights related to lentiviral vector technology” for CAR-Ts.

In bluebird’s case, none of the financial terms were disclosed, while Celyad says it can earn up to $96 million from their pact.

These are some of the first new moves by the pharma giant to demonstrate that it has a keen interest in staying in the lead with Kite as CAR-Ts jump past the first approvals and then shoot for new and better drugs. Last summer Novartis stunned the biopharma world with its abrupt and unexpected decision to shutter its stand-alone gene and cell therapy unit, which had been heralded as a key feature in its drive to develop important new therapies.

Analysts are waiting on Novartis to reveal data from its JULIET study on CTL019 later this summer, which will be viewed in direct comparison with Kite’s rival drug.

Right on the heels of its Novartis deal, bluebird followed up noting a new pact with GlaxoSmithKline $GSK covering its delivery tech for the pharma giant’s gene therapy work on Wiscott-Aldrich syndrome and metachromatic leukodystrophy, two rare genetic diseases.


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