Vivek Ramaswamy’s company-churning shop Roivant is operating at full steam. After unveiling Chinese biopharma upstart Sinovant last year, the two entities on Thursday debuted a fresh cell therapy company — Cytovant Sciences — dedicated to the Asian market, armed with a partnership with Germany’s immunotherapy-focused Medigene.
Under the deal, Medigene has granted Cytovant exclusive licenses to develop, manufacture, and commercialize Medigene’s research-stage T cell immunotherapy targeting New York esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (NY-ESO-1 ) — a well-known cancer-testis antigen expressed by various cancers — as well as a dendritic cell vaccine targeting leukemia-associated antigens — WT-1 and PRAME —in Greater China, South Korea, and Japan. Cytovant and Medigene will also discover and collaborate on T-cell receptor (TCR) immunotherapies for two additional targets, tailored specifically to Asian patients.
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. 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. Earlier this year, 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.
Medigene is getting $10 million upfront for the deal, and is eligible to receive up to $1 billion in milestone payments for the four products across multiple indications, in addition to royalty payments on net sales. Cytovant will also reimburse all R&D costs incurred by Medigene within the collaboration.
John Xu, a molecular immunologist and translational scientist, has joined Cytovant as its president. Prior to joining Cytovant, Xu served as CSO of Mab-Legend Biotech, a Shanghai-based antibody discovery company.
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