Florida-headquartered TapImmune – which makes novel immunotherapies for cancer – recently announced a merger agreement with Marker Therapeutics, a clinical-stage developer of a non-genetically engineered, multi-antigen T-cell therapy platform.
Together, the firms are working on a “potentially transformative cell therapy programme that can displace the CAR-T [chimeric antigen receptor] and TCR [T-cell receptor] approaches that have captured so much attention in the investor community,” said CEO Peter Hoang in an M&A conference call last week.
When asked if TapImmune would consider partnering with a major pharmaceutical company, Hoang told investors he would be “open” to the idea, if the opportunity was “very compelling” from a financial standpoint.
According to the CEO, geography and patient population would also be a determining factor.
Whereby TCR therapies can be used in a small subset of patients, the combined TapImmune/Marker approach can cater to larger populations, said Hoang.
“Most TCR programmes today target [human leukocyte antigen] A2 restricted TCRs. That’s a sub-segment that comprises about 40-50% of the Caucasian population, but when you move outside of Caucasian countries to places like China and Japan, you find that the largest interlay restrictions are non-A2.”
Japan is primarily a human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A24 restricted population, and China, primarily HLA-A12, he added.
However, as TapImmune’s approach is not restricted by a patient’s particular HLA restriction, “We could potentially partner with large pharma companies that are based in [Japan or China] with large patient populations in those areas…[to] deliver our therapy through that pharma partner to populations that are currently inaccessible for other TCR programmes,” said Hoang.
The firm would “absolutely explore” partnership opportunities domestically and globally, if financially attractive, he added.