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New Company Acquires Off-the-Shelf T-Cell Cancer Therapies

Human T-cell

Scanning electron micrograph of a healthy human T-cell (NIH.gov)

3 April 2018. A new enterprise is formed to develop treatments for cancer using donated T-cells from the immune system, rather than the patient’s own T-cells, engineered to attack cancer cells. The company, Allogene Therapeutics Inc. in South San Francisco, California is founded by former executives with engineered T-cell therapy pioneer Kite Pharma, and acquiring programs in development from the biopharmaceutical company Cellectis S.A. and drug maker Pfizer Inc.

Allogene Therapeutics is continuing work on gene therapy programs for treating cancer started by Cellectis. Those treatments genetically engineer T-cells from the immune system, by adding chimeric antigen receptors, proteins attracting antibodies that bind to and destroy blood-related and solid tumor cancer cells. In 2014, Pfizer and Cellectis agreed to collaborate on their development.

Current methods producing chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, known as CAR T-cells, produce promising results in patients with leukemia and other blood-related cancers. Most of the current methods, however, genetically engineer a patient’s own T-cells, then re-infuse the altered T-cells back into the individual. Cellectis’s and now Allogene’s process is designed to produce off-the-shelf CAR T-cell treatments, Cellectis calls Universal CAR T-cells, or UCARTs. These treatments use T-cells from healthy donors, rather than a patient’s own T-cells, then genetically engineered to match the attributes of specific cancer types.

As reported by Science & Enterprise in February, Cellectis received patents on its genetic modification processes for CAR T-cells using genome editing techniques. But also as we reported, Cellectis ran into setbacks when two clinical trials were stopped by FDA in September 2017 after some patients developed serious adverse effects, including a death. The death was caused by cytokine-release syndrome, a complex of immune-system reactions to immunotherapies that worsened with complications, and who later did not respond to treatment. FDA lifted the clinical hold in November 2017, allowing the trials to continue.

The agreement calls for Allogene to acquire Cellectis’s and Pfizer’s therapy, code-named UCART19  and now in clinical trials, using donated, engineered CAR T-cells to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In addition, Allogene is receiving 16 programs still in preclinical stages. Cellectis will still be eligible for milestone payments of up to $185 million per each target, totaling as much as $2.8 billion, as well as royalties on sales of Allogene products developed from these programs.

Allogene Therapeutics is founded by former executives of Kite Pharma, a company that helped pioneer CAR T-cell treatments for cancer using a patient’s own T-cells. In August 2017, Kite Pharma was acquired for nearly $12 billion by biopharmaceutical maker Gilead Sciences. Arie Belldegrun, Allogene’s executive chairman, was Kite Pharma’s president and CEO, while David Chang, formerly Kite’s R&D and chief medical officer, is now Allogene’s president and CEO.

Allogene is initially financed by $300 million in its first venture funding round led by by Two River, a life science venture investment company in New York, and Vida Ventures, also a life science investment enterprise in Boston. Also taking part are Pfizer, BellCo Capital, and University of California. Pfizer will have a 25 percent stake in Allogene, and will continue to hold 8 percent of Cellectis. In addition, Belldegrun is a co-founder of Vida Ventures, while Chang is a venture partner of the company.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Pfizer.

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