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Cellectis gets big pharma partners for CAR-T therapy

Pfizer, Servier and Cellectis in three-way deal to develop CAR-T immunotherapy
Pfizer

Pfizer and Servier have joined forces to help Cellectis develop UCART19, which hit the headlines earlier this month when it was used to treat a UK girl dying of cancer.

The two pharma companies have agreed to co-develop and co-commercialise the investigational chimaeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) immunotherapy in a three-way deal - announced by Servier - that is valued at up to $330m.

A single UCART19 treatment was given to an 11-month-old girl with incurable, refractory and aggressive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) a few weeks ago, and drove the cancer into remission.

While most CAR-T therapies are autologous - i.e. they involve taking harvesting T cells from patients and modifying them outside the body so that they recognise and attack malignant cell when re-infused - Cellectis has taken a different approach.

The French company has developed 'off-the-shelf' or allogeneic CAR-T cells that make the donation step redundant. That is seen as a major advance over the autologous approach, as it should be much quicker and cheaper to deliver the therapy to patients - an important consideration given the current debate over the escalating costs of cancer treatment.

Both Servier and Pfizer have established relationships with Cellectis. Servier has been working with the French biotech since the start of 2014. Meanwhile, Pfizer started working with the company in the middle of last year - taking a minority stake in the company - and was rumoured to be considering a takeover approach earlier in 2015.

Under the new agreement, Servier will pay Cellectis an upfront payment of $38m and has also pledged more than $300m in milestone payments and R&D funding. Pfizer and Servier will collaborate on a joint clinical development programme for UCART19 and share development costs, it said.

If UCART19 makes it through to market, Pfizer will sell the drug in the US while Servier has rights to commercialise it elsewhere.The size of the deal - given that UCART19 has yet to start phase I clinical trials - reflects the intense interest in CAR-T therapies among pharma companies.

Novartis has an in-house programme in CAR-T, while other big pharma companies have been steadily buying into the field.

Merck has agreed a $941m deal with Intrexon, while Amgen has announced a $1bn collaboration with Kite Pharma and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is paying up to $625m for rights to MacroGenics' MGD011 candidate.

Article by
Phil Taylor

20th November 2015

From: Research

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