“The deal with Merck Serono is an exclusive strategic collaboration and license agreement,” Marie Rossi – a spokesperson from Germantown, Maryland-based biotech Intrexon – told Biopharma-Reporter.com, and could lead to milestone payments of up to $826m (€770m) if the first two cancer therapy targets are successful.
CAR-T cells are genetically engineered T-cells with synthetic receptors that recognize a specific antigen expressed on tumor cells.
“Intrexon's cell engineering techniques enable the modification of cellular systems to control their function, performance and/or production,” Rossi explained, adding Merck Serono would also license the RheoSwitch platform which “provides the ability to control gene expression by regulating the timing and dose of a small molecule activator ligand.”
Big Biopharma interest
The deal is the latest example of Big Biopharma investing in such technology. Already this year Amgen has teamed up with Kite Pharma, and Novartis has partnered with Intellia, while Janssen is working with Transposagen.
“Stimulation of patient’s immune system T cells to efficiently recognize and attack cancer cells currently represents one of the most exciting approaches in oncology,” said Rossi.
“Given that companies like Merck Serono have a clear commitment to developing therapies that modulate the immune system's natural ability to fight tumors and have the potential to significantly evolve the way cancer is treated, we are seeing more interest in this approach.”
But while CAR-T tech platforms have provided some proof of concept in the clinic (for CD19 positive malignancies), Rossi told us “significant improvements have to be realized before this will become a reliable and commercially viable product,” and “significant hurdles have to be overcome before we will see similar encouraging data in solid tumors.”
However, she continued: “We believe our technology platform will give us the right tools to address current challenges and advance potential new therapies forward in a manner that allows us to remain competitive in this space.”