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Bayer Gains Lung Cancer Therapy in $670M Deal

Lung cancer illustration

Lung cancer illustration (NIH.gov)

7 Dec. 2020. Global drug maker Bayer AG is licensing an engineered T-cell therapy to treat mesothelioma and other solid tumor cancers from biotech Atara Biotherapeutics. The deal for two variations of its cell therapy treatment could bring Atara Bio in South San Francisco, California as much as $670 million if all aspects of the agreement are fulfilled.

Atara Bio designs synthetic T-cells from the immune system, derived from T-cells donated by healthy individuals, then altered to express properties needed to attack cancer cells in patients. Those cancer-fighting properties come from chimeric antigen receptors, proteins attracting antibodies that bind to and destroy blood-related and solid tumor cancer cells.

Among the company’s lead products are ATA2271 and ATA3271 designed to treat mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer affecting the lungs, but can also occur in the abdomen and heart cavities. In the lungs, which accounts for about three-quarters of the cases, cancer strikes the mesothelium, the protective layer of the chest cavity. Exposure to asbestos in the air increases the risk of contracting mesothelioma, which strikes some 3,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

ATA2271 and ATA3271 are T-cells with chimeric antigen receptors, or CAR T-cells, that target mesothelin, an antigen protein expressed at high levels in mesothelioma and other solid tumors, including triple-negative breast cancer, esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer. ATA2271 is an autologous variation of the therapy, using cells donated by the patient. ATA3271is the allogeneic or off-the-shelf version, made with T-cells from healthy donors. ATA2271 is being tested in an early-stage clinical trial, while ATA3271 is in preclinical development.

The deal gives Bayer AG in Berlin an exclusive worldwide license to ATA2271 and ATA3271. “This transaction is a fundamental element of Bayer’s new cell and gene therapy strategy,” says Wolfram Carius, who heads Bayer’s cell and gene therapy platform, in a statement. “It strengthens our development portfolio through allogeneic cell therapies and consolidates our emerging leadership in the field.” As reported by Science & Enterprise in October, Bayer is also acquiring Asklepios BioPharmaceutical, developer of gene therapies to treat inherited disorders, in a deal valued at $4 billion.

Under the agreement Atara Bio is responsible for further preclinical work leading to an investigational new drug application, in effect a request to the Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical trials for ATA3271. Bayer will submit the application and be responsible for clinical studies and commercialization, while Atara will continue with its early-stage trial of ATA2271.

Bayer is paying Atara Bio an initial fee of $60 million, with Atara eligible for up to $610 million in further development, regulatory, and commercialization milestone payments, as well as royalties on sales. Bayer will also reimburse Atara for translational and clinical manufacturing services for these two treatment candidates.

Pascal Touchon, Atara Bio’s CEO notes that the “collaboration between Atara and Bayer will accelerate the development of mesothelin-targeted CAR T-cell therapies for multiple solid tumors and helps us advance the power of our allogeneic cell therapy platform to patients as quickly as possible.”

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