Novartis has acquired the rights to a potential treatment for leukaemia as part of a research deal with the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).
The partners will research, develop and commercialise a range of targeted chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer.
The most advanced of these is chronic lymphocytic leukeamia (CLL) candidate CART-19, an investigational CAR therapy currently undergoing early-stage clinical trails.
This drug targets the CD19 protein, which is associated with various B-cell malignancies, including CLL, B-cell acute lymphocytic leukaemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Novartis and Penn will also establish the Centre for Advanced Cellular Therapies (CACT), a new research and development facility on the Penn campus in Philadelphia.
The R&D centre will develop and manufacture adoptive T-cell immunotherapies for the research collaboration with the aim of accelerating the discovery and development of additional therapies.
Hervé Hoppenot, president of Novartis Oncology, said: "By combining Penn's expertise on this pioneering technology with Novartis' strength in bringing innovative therapies to patients, we have the potential to transform the future of cancer treatment.”
CAR immunotherapy draws patient's immune cells (T-cells) from their blood and re-codes them. The re-coded cells are then re-introduced into the patient's blood, bind to the targeted cancer cells and destroy them.
"This collaboration underscores our commitment to working with partners that are at the forefront of science and medicine," said Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. "Immunotherapy is one of the exciting frontiers in cancer research and the CAR technology developed by the team at Penn has shown early promise as a new way for treating cancer."
Attempts have been made to target cancer with cell-based immunotherapy since the mid-1980s, but it is only recently that this approach has shown some success.
Early results from Penn's clinical trial of CART-19 showed potent anti-leukaemic effects in three patients with advanced CLL who had previously undergone multiple courses of chemotherapy and biological therapy. Two of the patients were still in complete remission more than a year into the CART-19 trial, and the third patient maintained partial remission for more than seven months.
Under their alliance Novartis will provide an up-front payment, research funding, funding for the establishment of CACT and milestone payments for specific achievements.
In return the pharma company will receive worldwide rights to any products that emerge from their collaboration.
The deal is another example of pharma collaborating with academic institution to bolster its product pipelines and follows recent oncology deals involving Lilly's open-source drug discovery platform as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb.