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Synthetic Bio Cancer Immunotherapy Company Acquired

Natural killer cell

Natural killer cell (NIAID, Flickr)

27 Dec. 2019. A biotechnology company creating synthetic proteins that invoke the immune system to fight cancer is being acquired by drug maker Astellas Pharma. The deal with Astellas Pharma Inc., in Tokyo, is expected to bring shareholders of Xyphos Biosciences, in South San Francisco, California as much as $665 million if all aspects of the agreement are fulfilled.

Xyphos Biosciences, a three year-old company, develops synthetic proteins based on natural human receptor proteins known as NKG2D. These proteins appear on the surface of natural killer and T-cells in the immune system, and are considered key receptors for detecting and fighting damaged or pathogen-infected cells, including tumor cells. The Xyphos technology, called Advanced Cellular Control through Engineered Ligands or Accel, takes little-used ligands, or connector molecules, in NKG2D proteins and modifies their chemistry to provide highly specific targets, while deactivating other ligands.

The Xyphos technology then adds immunotherapy proteins that invoke the immune system to find and kill cancer cells. Among these immunotherapies are T-cells in the immune system with chimeric antigen receptors added, called CAR T-cells, to target tumor tissue. Xyphos says that unlike earlier CAR T-cells, its engineered CAR T-cells are more precisely targeted and controlled, with longer life cycles in the body and fewer adverse effects. All of the company’s therapy candidates are either in preclinical or discovery stages.

Astellas has a number of cancer drug candidates, including immunotherapies, in clinical trials, but plans to use the Xyphos/Accel technology to develop a new type of cancer treatments. “The innovative technology in development at Xyphos,” says Kenji Yasukawa, president and CEO of Astellas in a company statement, “fits perfectly in advancing our immuno-oncology strategy to create and deliver value for patients. Combining this technology with our capabilities in cell therapy that we have been working on so far, we can create next-generation high-function cells and maximize the value of our technology.”

Under the agreement, Xyphos becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of Astellas. Xyphos is receiving an initial payment of $120 million from Astellas, with additional milestone payments of $545 million expected.

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