The appetite for TCR therapies and their potential to target solid tumors — a limitation of existing cellular therapies — has burgeoned, fueling a string of deals. On Friday, Roche’s Genentech agreed to fork out a meaty $300 million upfront for access to Adaptive Biotechnologies’ tech platform, which is designed to identify T-cell receptors (TCRs) for therapeutic use. The deal, which offers Adaptive up to $2 billion over time in milestone payments, will be used to develop personalized cancer therapies.
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. TCR tech typically involves reengineering T-cell receptors so that they can better recognize cancer proteins, sparking an assault on tumors. Unlike CAR-T cells that can recognize abnormal proteins expressed on the surface, TCRs can recognize tumor-specific proteins on the inside of cells. That makes CAR-T therapies more amenable to blood cancers, while TCR therapies-in-development have potential across multiple tumors.
Genentech is hoping Adaptive’s platform — TruTCR — will identify TCRs that can effectively recognize and target specific neoantigens, which are proteins generated by tumor-specific mutations not found in normal tissues. Essentially, Adaptive aims to use its technology to isolate optimal TCRs that will most effectively target each patient’s neoantigens for treatment, while Genentech will engineer and manufacture the tailored cellular medicine for the patient.
“Cellular therapy approaches in cancer have been limited by the inability to effectively screen and translate the immune response to patient-specific neoantigens. Accurate recognition of such neoantigens is a major driver in the activity of novel immunotherapies,” said Adaptive co-founder Harlan Robins in a statement.
Under the deal — expected to close in the first quarter of 2019 — Genentech is in charge of the clinical and regulatory process as well as commercialization, while Adaptive is responsible for patient-specific screening.
There were a spate of TCR deals and announcements in 2018: TCR2 Therapeutics is planning a $100 million-plus IPO, Gilead-owned CAR-T player Kite Pharma has paid $10 million to access HiFiBiO’s TCR tech platform, bluebird bio tied up with neoantigen biotech Gritstone to look for new targets to beef up its TCR pipeline, and joined forces with Regeneron to develop TCR targets in a five-year alliance.
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