Astellas will pay $120m (€107m) on the closing of the agreement, with further development milestones potentially increasing this to $665m (€598m).
The Japanese drugmaker has moved for Xyphos, based in San Francisco, US, to gain access to its ‘convertibleCAR’ technology platform.
The biotech believes that its platform can address some of the drawbacks of current, first-generation chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T treatments by making this form therapy more targeted and opening the possibility of dose-controlled activity.
This is achieved by protein engineering to create inert NKG2D receptors, which, when combined with natural signaling and activating components of T cells, allows for the CAR-T cells to remain inactive when dosed to patients.
However, after delivery, the CAR-T cells can then be activated and directed towards cancerous cells. According to the biotech, control of dosing is achieved through dose titration of the bispecific MicAbodies, which are responsible for activation.
With this engineering, Xyphos believes it can avoid the ‘cytokine storm’ that are sometimes created by first-generation CAR-T therapies.
Through the Xyphos deal, Astellas will add five pre-clinical candidates, with its lead product set to be tested in a first-in-human clinical study in 2021.
For Astellas, the move for Xyphos fits into a pattern of deal making in recent years, which has seen the company look to bolster its portfolio of cell and gene therapy treatments.
At the end of last year, Astellas spent $3bn to acquire gene therapy specialist, Audentes Therapeutics – building on similar previous deals.