Juno has bought Boston, Massachusetts-based AbVitro for $78m in cash and 1.3 million shares, adding the firm’s AbSeq and AbPair high-throughput full length antibody sequencing to its arsenal.
AbVitro’s technologies allow for the identification of fully-human, natively paired T cell receptors (TCRs) and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T binders directly from cancer patients, and will help Juno generate binders that recognise known targets as well as the discovery of new cancer antigen targets.
“The technology platform we built at AbVitro represents an exciting, novel approach to the understanding of immune responses and the discovery of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes and their antigen targets,” Francois Vigneault – AbVitro’s co-founder and now Juno’s VP of Research – said.
“The synergy with Juno’s goals in the field of TCR and CAR T-cell therapies is a perfect match for our team and technology.”
Juno has also inked a deal, in principle, to license the cell sequencing technology to Celgene, its immunotherapy partner. The two firms are co-developing a number of CAR-T product candidates in a $1bn, 10-year partnership forged last July.
The manufacture of B-Cell and T-Cell biologics, involves complex processes, including harvesting T cells from patients, genetically modifying the T cells ex vivo, multiplying the T cells to obtain the desired dose, and infusing the T cells back into a patient’s body.
Last February, Juno announced it was leasing a facility – set to come online early this year – in Bothell, Washington, to support clinical trials of its lead product, JCAR015, though it will continue to work with existing CMO (contract manufacturing organisation) partners to augment its manufacturing capabilities.
Juno and Celgene are not alone in the CAR-T therapy field. A number of Pharma Giants have entered the space recently, including Novartis which is developing its own pipeline of such products, and Amgen which last year teamed up with Kite Biopharma to access its proprietary CAR platform, R&D and manufacturing capabilities.
Meanwhile Cellectis – which was subject to takeover rumours by its partner Pfizer last year – made headlines in November after its ‘off-the-shelf’ T-Cell therapy was shown to have successfully treated an 11-month old girl with leukaemia.