Harpreet Singh (file photo)

TCR-fo­cused Im­mat­ics adds an­oth­er mar­quee name to its list of part­ners: GSK

Im­mat­ics, in its fe­cund deal spree, has lured GSK, as the British drug­mak­er re­fo­cus­es its at­ten­tion to the lu­cra­tive field of on­col­o­gy.

On Thurs­day, the pri­vate­ly-held im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny se­cured $50 mil­lion up­front in a col­lab­o­ra­tion with GSK on two T cell re­cep­tor (TCR) ther­a­peu­tics fo­cused on sol­id tu­mors. If all goes well, Im­mat­ics stands to earn more than $550 mil­lion in mile­stone pay­ments, in ad­di­tion to tiered roy­al­ties for each prod­uct.

Cre­at­ed in 2000 as a spin­off of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tübin­gen, Ger­many, Im­mat­ic cur­rent­ly op­er­ates in the re­gion, in Mu­nich and has a pres­ence in Hous­ton, Texas. Over the years, the biotech has joined forces with a num­ber of part­ners — Gen­mab, Am­gen, Mor­phosys, Roche, Cel­gene as well as Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter — in its quest to de­vel­op both adop­tive cell ther­a­pies and bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­bod­ies.

The GSK deal comes as the in­dus­try’s ap­petite for TCR ther­a­pies and their po­ten­tial to tar­get sol­id tu­mors — a lim­i­ta­tion of ex­ist­ing cel­lu­lar ther­a­pies — is bur­geon­ing.

GSK has an ex­ist­ing part­ner­ship with UK-based Adap­ti­m­mune, an­oth­er TCR play­er. Their lead cell ther­a­py pro­gram, GSK3377794, em­ploys TCR tech­nol­o­gy and is in a piv­otal Phase II study in syn­ovial sar­co­ma.

GSK is one of the few phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies with a clear TCR strat­e­gy. Apart from their Adap­ti­m­mune deal, they’re work­ing on how to re­al­ly make man­u­fac­tur­ing com­mer­cial­ly at­trac­tive and on cell en­gi­neer­ing tech­nol­o­gy, Im­mat­ics chief Harpreet Singh not­ed in an in­ter­view with End­points News. “And now with us, they have com­plet­ed, in our view, the third leg of a strat­e­gy, and that is bring­ing in the right tar­gets with Im­mat­ics.”

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 in­side cells. That makes CAR-T ther­a­pies more amenable to blood can­cers, while TCR ther­a­pies-in-de­vel­op­ment have po­ten­tial across mul­ti­ple tu­mor types.

De­spite their abun­dant promise, the adop­tion of CAR-T ther­a­pies — No­var­tis’ Kym­ri­ah and Gilead’s Yescar­ta — has un­der­whelmed ini­tial ex­pec­ta­tions. The up­take of Kym­ri­ah was plagued by man­u­fac­tur­ing prob­lems, and de­spite No­var­tis’ at­tempt to ex­pand its ca­pac­i­ty, sales con­tin­ue to dis­ap­point com­mer­cial­ly, giv­ing Yescar­ta an edge in the mar­ket. Mean­while, no­table side ef­fects, as well as the ther­a­pies’ ex­pen­sive price tags, have al­so lim­it­ed their use. A raft of drug de­vel­op­ers is work­ing on a fix for some of these con­straints by de­vel­op­ing off-the-shelf CAR-T ther­a­pies, de­signed to smoothen man­u­fac­tur­ing com­plex­i­ties by us­ing healthy donor cells.

In this Im­mat­ics/GSK deal, the part­ners will ini­tial­ly de­vel­op au­tol­o­gous T cell ther­a­pies with the op­tion to add off-the-shelf cell ther­a­pies.

Im­mat­ics has an edge in the TCR land­scape by virtue of its tar­get dis­cov­ery plat­form, Singh sug­gest­ed. “I would say the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion isn’t, per se, in the TCR dis­cov­ery plat­form — there are a num­ber of com­pa­nies that can do this very well — its by com­bin­ing our unique tar­get dis­cov­ery data­base.”

The com­pa­ny al­so has inked a num­ber of li­cens­ing pacts fo­cused on bis­pecifics, a class of emerg­ing ther­a­pies that work in a dual ca­pac­i­ty — to rec­og­nize an anti­gen tar­get on tu­mor cells in tan­dem with rec­og­niz­ing a re­cep­tor on T cells, in or­der to cat­alyze the oblit­er­a­tion of the can­cer cell by the T cell.

The Cel­gene deal of 2019, like this GSK deal, is based on TCR ther­a­pies. But Im­mat­ics is now off the mar­ket for deals of this sort, Singh said. “We do not en­vi­sion that we will do fur­ther tar­get by tar­get deals…our fo­cus is to move for­ward and ad­vance our pro­pri­etary pipeline.”

In its life­time — and in­clud­ing the $50 mil­lion up­front from GSK — Im­mat­ics has raised around $475 mil­lion in ven­ture cap­i­tal, strate­gic part­ner­ships, and grants.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

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