The deal sees the London-based personalised medicine maker acquire the rights of the WT1 T cell receptor (TCR) cell therapy from Catapult Therapy TCR Limited, a subsidiary of the UK government funded Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult.
While financial detail were not divulged, the agreement sees Cell Medica continue to work with CGT Catapult for the manufacturing and scale up of the solid tumour and blood cancer candidate.
“CGT Catapult has invested substantial time and resources to develop the manufacturing process for the first generation WT1-TCR,” Gregg Sando, CEO Cell Medica, told Biopharma-Reporter. “The process is very reliable and to date CGT Catapult has consistently released products for the treatment of patients.”
However, “the current process is still labour-intensive and we can clearly improve upon the level of automation in order to reduce cost of goods,” he continued. “Cell Medica and CGT Catapult will commence work to examine a range of cell processing technologies in the context of scaling up the production system.”
The project will take place at CGT’s £55m ($70m) centre in Stevenage – about 30 miles north of London – built to provide access to flexible and cost-effective cell therapy manufacturing to UK cell therapy companies, as well as at CGT’s London location at Guys Hospital which houses process development capabilities.
“The process development and scale-up work involves a series of work packages which will be executed on a collaborative basis by Catapult and Cell Medica across the sites in Stevenage, Guys Hospital and [Cell Medica’s research and process development labs at] the Royal Free Hospital [London].”
T Cells to target cancer
As the principal immune cells which kill cancer cells, genetically engineered TCRs “represent a very powerful arm of cellular immunotherapy for cancer,” Sando told us.
“More than 90% of cancer antigens, including WT1, are intracellular (within the malignant cell) and hence Cell Medica is keen to develop this technology as part of its comprehensive approach for using immune cells to target a wide range of antigens associated with cancer, both extracellular and intracellular.”
As for the WT1-TCR acquisition, Cell Medica is looking to incorporate its expression-enhancing Dominant TCR technology – licensed from University College London in 2016 – on the second generation product.
“The human body manufactures millions of different TCRs in order to maximize the possibility that T cells can recognize and kill pathogens or mutated human proteins that may be associated with cancer. It is possible to genetically engineer these TCRs to further improve how they recognize cancer antigens,” Sando explained.
“The Dominant TCR technology goes a step further and creates a more stable association between the alpha chain and the beta chain and leads to a higher level of expression of the engineered TCR on the surface of the T cell.”