TCR deal frenzy continues as bluebird antes up $30M for new Gritstone alliance
Bluebird bio $BLUE is jumping on the AI target-identification platform developed at the neo-antigen biotech Gritstone to identify some new TCR programs for the pipeline.
TCRs have been all the rage recently as biotech follows a tech trail that they believe will lead to a wider range of cancer drug targets to go after — particularly in solid tumors, where cell therapies face some of their biggest challenges. Just days ago bluebird aligned on a T cell receptor development deal with biotech powerhouse Regeneron, bagging $100 million for a 50/50 pact on accelerating new programs.
In this new alliance, Gritstone will bird dog the tumor-specific drug targets and natural TCRs as bluebird researchers look to expand a cell therapy pipeline now led by its BCMA-targeting star bb2121. Gritstone will be key in patient identification and will receive a $20 million upfront plus an upcoming $10 million equity investment from bluebird.
The statement doesn’t specify the milestones involved, beyond saying they are “significant.” With $30 million in near-term cash for a discovery deal like this, the biobucks must be substantial.
Investment in TCRs has noticeably heated up this summer. The question is whether this is sheer necessity due to the reality of cell therapies and solid tumors or if there is more to it than that.
— Brad Loncar (@bradloncar) August 23, 2018
“As the field of immuno-oncology has evolved, it has become clear that targeting T-cell therapeutics to solid tumors in a highly specific manner is vital to enable potent tumor cell killing with sparing of normal tissues,” said Andrew Allen, the CEO of Gritstone. “We believe that our artificial intelligence-based approach to identifying tumor-specific targets and corresponding, naturally occurring TCRs, combined with bluebird bio’s expertise in gene and cell therapy, will allow us to develop cellular immunotherapies against differentiated oncology targets.”