Pfizer cuts five cancer programs; George Church engages Cellectis’ TALEN tech to create virus-resistant human cells

Pfizer $PFE has cut five of its oncology programs, according to the pharma giant’s pipeline update. The axed programs include a handful of preclinical trials, and a couple of better known late-stage ones. As expected, Pfizer shut down the Phase III trial of its VEGF inhibitor Inlyta, which flopped earlier this month when investigators flagged a dead end on outcomes. The pharma giant also cut another program for its cancer drug Xtandi, which was acquired through the $14B acquisition of Medivation in 2016. Pfizer has tried to expand the market for the drug since first bagging it, but the trials have been hit or miss so far. The company outlined positive Phase III prostate cancer data in September, but discontinued a breast cancer program months earlier. Now, Pfizer is axing Xtandi’s Phase II program in liver cancer.

Here’s the rest of Pfizer’s discontinued cancer programs, all in Phase I trials:

  • PF-06883541, a cancer biologic Pfizer transferred to the hands of Allogene earlier this month. It’s a CD19 molecule targeted cytotoxicity CAR-T.
  • PF-04136309, a Chemokine receptor 2 (CCR2) antagonist that had orphan status for pancreatic cancer in the US.
  • Three trials for utomilumab, a CD137 agonist monoclonal antibody. The drug was being evaluated on its own and in combination with Merck’s PD-1 Keytruda and Kyowa Hakko Kirin‘s anti-CCR4 antibody mogamulizumab.

Read more on Pfizer’s pipeline update, published May 1.

Harvard’s George Church is the latest partner to sign up for Cellectis’ TALEN (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) gene-editing technology, but not for the allogenic CAR-T cells that the French biotech $CLLS is known for. Instead, the CRISPR pioneer wants to recode the entire genome of human and other cell lines to resist viral infections in an effort called the Recode project. The idea is that by eliminating redundant codons encoding the same amino acids, synthetic biologists would render it impossible for viruses to hijack the cell to produce viral proteins. That’s where the tailored TALEN enzymes come in: The team will use them to modify codons at 400,000 locations of the human genome, essentially replacing certain codons with a designated alternative. Down the line, the technology might also have applications in biomanufacturing, organ transplantation, and regenerative medicine. “Cellectis’ TALEN gene editing technology will contribute much to the success of this project,” said Church, a faculty member of the Wyss Institute, in a statement.

→ Two drug discovery specialists in the UK are putting their technologies together to identify novel mechanisms for treating Parkinson’s disease. C4X Discovery will contribute its target identification platform Taxonomy3 — which the company says has already identified 180 disease-associated genes and patient sub-groups — while e-Therapeutics will take that data to come up with intervention strategies using its Network-driven Drug Discovery tech. The partners hope to yield preclinical drug assets that they can out-license, like C4XD did with its anti-addiction drug in a $294 million deal with Indivior.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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