Baxalta has made a play for a stake of the emerging CAR-T immunotherapy market with a $1.7bn, three-year alliance with Precision BioSciences.
CAR-T, or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell receptor therapy, is a hot topic in immuno-oncology and companies active in the area are attracting considerable interest from big pharma companies after compelling results in early-stage clinical trials.
Baxalta, which is in the midst of a $32bn merger with Shire, is making an upfront payment of $105m to get the ball rolling on six CAR-T projects across multiple cancer types, with another $1.6bn in the offing if they all pass successfully through development. The first project is due to start clinical trials next year.
Most CAR-T therapies are 'autologous' based on T cells harvested from patients that are modified and multiplied outside the body to recognise and attack malignant cells when re-infused. Precision BioSciences however is developing an allogeneic or 'off-the-shelf' approach based on prepared cell lines that promise to make delivery of the therapy faster and more efficient.
David Meek, president of Baxalta's oncology division, said the alliance combines Precision's technology with Baxalta's "global infrastructure, expertise and growing immuno-oncology portfolio".
The deal comes a few weeks after Baxalta agreed a deal with Symphogen worth up to $1.6bn to develop a series of novel checkpoint inhibitor drugs, making a bold foray into a therapeutic category that to date has not been a major focus for the firm.
Other companies buying into the CAR-T sector include Pfizer and Servier, which forged an alliance with Cellectis last November, as well as Celgene, which paid $1bn for a 10-year collaboration with Juno Therapeutics the previous June.
Some other examples include Merck & Co's $941m alliance with Intrexon, Amgen with a $1bn collaboration with Kite Pharma and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) which recently paid up to $625m for rights to MacroGenics' MGD011 candidate.
Meanwhile, Novartis has relied on its in-house expertise in CAR-T, and has a leading position with its lead autologous candidate CTL109, which is already in trials for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL).