TapImmune, Marker merger to ‘significantly disrupt’ CAR-T and TCR field, says CEO

By Melissa Fassbender contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Bogdanhoda)
(Image: Getty/Bogdanhoda)
TapImmune CEO says Marker Therapeutics’ data could be game-changing, as the two companies set to merge and disrupt the field of immuno-oncology and cell therapy.

TapImmune – which is working to develop novel immunotherapies for cancer – has entered into a merger agreement with Marker Therapeutics, a clinical-stage developer of a non-genetically engineered, multi-antigen T cell therapy platform.

Peter Hoang, president and CEO of TapImmune, told us the most important underlying reason behind the merger is the "compelling value"​ it brings to TapImmune’s shareholders.

Having spent the last six years primarily working with CAR-T therapies, Hoang has known about Marker and the Baylor team for some time, “even though they’ve been operating in stealth mode,”​ he said. “When I looked at their data, I really felt it was game-changing for the field.”​ 

Reflecting on Marker’s data, Hoang said the last time he “felt something like this”​ was in seeing Kite Pharma’s data in June 2014, at which time Kite was a six-person virtual company. As he explained, the data was mainly based on Phase I data from an academic trial at a single medical center. “But the data itself was transformative,”​ he added, noting that Marker’s data “struck”​ him as being the same thing – “Phase I data at a single center, Baylor College of Medicine in an academic trial.”

“But the data told me that this therapy could change everything,” ​added Hoang, who believes the combined company will have the opportunity to “significantly disrupt the CAR-T and TCR field."

Continued development

TapImmune today has announced the formation of a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) composed of experts in the field of immuno-oncology and cell therapy.

Foundational members include scientists from the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, with which TapImmune is set to finalize a strategic alliance that will include sponsored research, manufacturing support, and advancing early-stage clinical trials at the institution.

Other SAB members include the former president of the American Society for Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) and of the International Society for Cell Therapy, Malcolm K. Brenner, MD, PhD; current ASGCT president Helen E. Heslop, MD, DSc (Hon); and Cliona M. Rooney, PhD, professor and director of Translational Research Laboratories at Baylor’s Center for Cell and Gene Therapy.

“The caliber of our advisors speaks to the merit of the technology,”​ said Hoang, noting that Malcolm Brenner is a household name within the CAR-T field. “The fact that [the SAB members] are committing to TapImmune and Marker because of their conviction in this technology is significant,”​ he added.

The goal of the SAB will be to support the continued clinical development of the company’s multi-antigen targeted cell therapy platform. “In the coming days, I expect that we may be able to announce more leaders within the field of Immuno-oncology joining us,”​ Hoang added, “and I believe that will very much validate the merits of our therapeutic approaches.”

The SAB will become effective in parallel with the merger, which has been unanimously approved by the board of directors of both companies and is expected to close in the second half of 2018. After closing, Hoang will be president and CEO of the combined company. Marker CEO John Wilson will join the combined company's board of directors.

TapImmune is currently in discussions with investors to secure possible financing that would potentially fund the combined company into 2020. The company also has entered into agreements with institutional stockholders and warrant holders that are expected to provide the company with approximately $5.1m in equity financing.

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