T cells against cancer
OXFORD, U.K.—Targeted toward developing and commercializing its lead clinical cancer program, United Kingdom-based Adaptimmune Ltd., a biotechnology company developing T cells to treat early-stage cancer, has entered into a strategic immunotherapy and licensing agreement with global pharmaceutical GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in a deal potentially worth several hundred million dollars. This agreement may seem an unlikely partnership to some, as it comes roughly a month after Brentford, England-based GSK agreed to sell its cancer drug business to Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, as part of a trade of more than $20 billion in assets.
Clearly, the Adaptimmune deal shows GSK will not be entirely leaving the oncology space.
Following its founding in 2008, this is Adaptimmune’s first major collaboration. The biotech’s approach uses the body’s own immune defense-system machinery (T cells) to target and destroy cancerous or infected cells by producing engineered, increased affinity T cell receptors to strengthen natural patient responses and overcome tolerance to cancer, Adaptimmune states.
According to the agreed-upon development plan, the deal could yield payments in excess of $350 million to Adaptimmune over the next seven years, with significant additional development and commercialization payments becoming due in subsequent years if GSK exercises all its options and milestones. In addition, Adaptimmune would also receive tiered royalties ranging from single to double digits on net sales.
In April, GSK sold its existing oncology business to Novartis for up to $16 billion as part of a three-pronged deal that also involves the two companies’ consumer healthcare and vaccine businesses. The agreement provided for GSK and Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis to create a joint consumer healthcare business, 63.5 percent of which will be owned by GSK. Additionally, GSK acquired Novartis’ global vaccines business—excluding its influenza vaccines—for $5.25 billion in cash and potential milestone payments of up to $1.8 billion, plus ongoing royalties.
Novartis and GSK also agreed to combine Novartis’s over-the-counter pharmaceutical business with GSK’s consumer drug business, a deal struck by both companies to strengthen their existing operations and to focus on businesses where they had a competitive advantage.
Using its unique T cell receptor (TCR) engineering technology, Adaptimmune has created TCRs which are deployed to target the cancer testis antigen, NY-ESO-1, and other targets, Adaptimmune states. The company’s trials in the NY-ESO-1 program in multiple myeloma, melanoma, sarcoma and ovarian cancer in the United States are generating encouraging results, with European trials poised to begin shortly.
Adaptimmune also boasts a pipeline of follow-on programs. However, neither company will disclose information about the nature of any follow-ons.
“We are delighted to collaborate with GSK, a leading pharmaceutical company which has made a strategic commitment to immuno-oncology,” James Noble, CEO of Adaptimmune, stated in a news release. “Its substantial development and manufacturing expertise in key areas will be invaluable as we work together to accelerate the development of our programs and bring potentially breakthrough cancer therapies to patients.”
This is a significant deal “both in commercial terms and in its scope,” Noble said. “We can’t comment on the details of the programs. We anticipate achieving clinical proof of concept in 2016.”
Axel Hoos, vice president of oncology R&D and head of immuno- oncology at GSK, said: “We are very pleased to be working with Adaptimmune to co-develop new treatments in cancer immunotherapy, an exciting area of core strategic focus for GSK Oncology R&D.”
“We believe that Adaptimmune’s T cell receptor engineering technology will be synergistic with the growing immuno-oncology portfolio of GSK and leverage our existing expertise in autologous cell gene therapy,” Hoos said.
“Together, this combination of capabilities offers an opportunity for significant progress in the use of the body’s immune system to fight cancer,” he added.
The deal with Adaptimmune “is a recent example of GSK’s approach to R&D and innovation, embracing partnership and collaboration to bring about true innovation and greatest benefit to patients,” Hoos tells DDNews. “We currently have more than 40 external relationships focused on just pre-proof-of- concept assets. We really do embrace collaboration to the fullest extent.
“The financial value of these collaborations varies and ultimately will depend on meeting specific milestones.”
“The Adaptimmune collaboration is special because the next transformational wave in immunotherapies will be cellular therapies,” he adds. “And this Adaptimmune opportunity falls into that category.”
“The deal with Novartis included transfer of GSK’s marketed products and associated R&D and not our oncology research unit,” Hoos explains. “We will continue to discover and develop oncology medicines and focus on immuno-oncology, epigenetics and tumor signaling.”
In addition to its research base in Oxford, England, Adaptimmune has a U.S. clinical base in Philadelphia. Adaptimmune undertakes all of its own research and development using proprietary T cell receptor engineering technology co-developed and co-owned with its sister company Immunocore Ltd. but exclusively licensed for T cell therapy to Adaptimmune. Backed by private investors, Adaptimmune is in the clinic in the U.S. in multiple cancer indications with its engineered TCR to the NY-ESO-1/LAGE-1 cancer testis antigen. European trials will shortly commence, and the company recently announced that it is taking a second T cell-based therapy into clinical trials in triple negative breast cancer in 2015, supported by a major grant from the United Kingdom’s Technology Strategy Board.
GSK operates in three primary areas of business: pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer healthcare. GSK’s principal pharmaceutical products are directed to therapeutic areas, such as respiratory, antivirals, central nervous system, cardiovascular and urogenital, antibacterials, oncology, vaccines and HIV.