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MaxCyte gets green light for solid tumour cell therapy

Its first CAR therapy will be tested in patients with ovarian cancer

AIM-listed biotech MaxCyte has been cleared by the FDA to start trials of its chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy for solid tumours, viewed as a tough challenge for this new type of cancer immunotherapy.

MaxCyte

The trial will test MaxCyte’s first wholly-owned CAR therapy MCY-M11 in patients with relapsed/refractory ovarian cancer and peritoneal mesothelioma, with the therapy delivered by intraperitoneal injection. An intravenous version of the CAR therapy – which targets a protein called mesothelin found on the surface of malignant cells – is also in preclinical development for other solid tumours.

MaxCyte has two sides to its business, developing its own therapies on one hand and on the other licensing its flow electroporation platform for use by other companies. The company’s in-house tech uses messenger RNA to engineer peripheral blood mononuclear cells or macrophages so they express CARs that target cancer cells.

The current generation of CAR-T therapies – namely Novartis’ Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) and Gilead/Kite’s Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) – use engineered T cells harvested from blood, which have to be expanded in culture to provide a sufficient therapeutic dose. MaxCyte’s approach could mean that its therapies are quicker and easier to prepare and deliver back to the patient.

It also thinks they could also have an added bonus. Because the therapies use macrophages which engulf malignant cells, they could have a double effect – killing them directly as well as priming a T-cell response – and may be more efficient than CAR-Ts at penetrating into the depths of tumours.

Difficulties in getting to the cells at the heart of tumours is one reason why solid tumours are considered a challenging target for CAR-T, which so far have been approved only for haematologic cancers like leukaemia and lymphoma.

A CAR-T targeting mesothelin developed by the University of Pennsylvania in the US and Novartis was able to target tumour cells in a 2015 phase I trial but suffered from a lack of persistence and didn’t achieve any clinical responses.

Mesothelin is expressed at elevated levels by a number of cancer types, including prostate and bile duct cancer, and  has also been targeted by antibody-based drugs such as Morphotek’s amatuximab and Bayer’s anetumab ravtansine. The latter failed a phase III trial last year.

MaxCyte also revealed that its revenues grew nearly 12% in the first half of the year to $6.9m thanks to its collaborations and licensing deals with academic and industrial partners, which now number 55 across “immuno-oncology, gene editing and regenerative medicine.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

16th July 2018

From: Research, Sales

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