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GSK forms cell therapy R&D pact with star-studded biotech

Lyell Immunopharma working on ways to improve T cell function and fitness

GSK logo on building

GlaxoSmithKline has formed a five-year cell therapy R&D collaboration with Lyell Immunopharma to further its efforts to treat solid tumours.

GSK has an existing presence in cell therapies through its relationship with Adaptimmue, which gave it control of midphase autologous T cell candidate GSK3377794. The Lyell agreement is intended to enhance and expand this presence.

Neither company has disclosed the financial details of the relationship but they have been more forthcoming about the broad goals of the collaboration.

Working with Lyell, GSK aims to develop new technologies that improve cell therapies, notably by expanding their use beyond the blood cancers targeted by Gilead Sciences’ Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) and Novartis’ Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel).

Lyell is already working on ways to improve T cell function and fitness and thereby increase the initial responses rates seen in solid tumour patients.

GSK plans to combine its cell therapies with these technologies. The combination could improve the benefit-risk profile of candidates including GSK’s lead cell therapy programme, GSK3377794.

Lyell has secured that starring role in the cell therapy pipeline of a leading pharma company despite being largely unheard of prior to news of GSK deal.

While Lyell has kept a low profile during its short history, it has quietly grown into a notable player. Rick Klausner, a founder of GRAIL and Juno Therapeutics, set up Lyell and serves as its CEO.

Klausner has surrounded himself with leaders drawn from organisations including Kite Pharma, Juno, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the National Cancer Institute. Lyell has 117 employees, according to LinkedIn, and close to 30 job openings.

The team is developing technologies to address what it perceives to be the three main barriers to the creation of a “reliable, curative adoptive cell therapy for solid tumours”.

One strand of Lyell’s R&D activities is focused on redefining starting cell preparations. The second part of the plan is to modulate T cells so they stay functional in the solid tumour micro-environment. Finally, Lyell wants to control the specificity and safety of T cells aimed at solid tumour targets.

A number of other companies are working toward similar goals using different methods. The past month alone has seen multiple biotechs with aspirations to treat solid tumours using cell therapies raise money, with Achilles Therapeutics and Nkarta Therapeutics’ triple-digit rounds among the stand-out examples.

Article by
Nick Taylor

9th October 2019

From: Research

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