Syena sets out to pioneer TCR NK cell therapy

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/antoniosolano
Pic:getty/antoniosolano

Related tags Cell therapy Cell therapies T cell receptor Natural killer cells Us genome editing

New company Syena says it has the potential to create the next generation of cell therapy: combining the safety, potency and scalability of natural killer (NK) cells with the ability of T cell receptors (TCR) to target intracellular tumor antigens.

The company – which has been launched by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and San Diego genome writing company Replay – wants to use its cord blood-derived T cell receptor natural killer (TCR NK) platform to create a scalable, off-the-shelf cell therapy.

The TCR NK cell platform is based upon the scientific discoveries of Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy at MD Anderson.

Potential to 'significantly impact oncology cell therapy'

Syena will build a pipeline of engineered cell therapies with the platform, licensed exclusively from MD Anderson.

It is targeting a selection of validated cancer neoantigens: including NY-ESO-1 and additional undisclosed TCRs.

The NY-ESO-1 program in hematological malignancies and solid tumors could enter the clinic as soon as the second quarter of this year.

Syena will receive licenses to various Replay cell and genome engineering platform technologies.

“While clinical successes in hematological malignancies have demonstrated the transformative potential of engineered cell therapies, these successes have not yet been realized in solid tumors," said Adrian Woolfson, executive chairman, president & co-founder of Replay.

"NK cells offer distinct advantages over T cells, and building on Dr. Rezvani’s research to arm them with TCRs has the potential to significantly impact oncology cell therapy.”

Syena says its TCR-NK cell therapy platform will combine the advantages of engineered TCR cancer therapy with those of NK cells, offering the possibility of improved safety and efficacy through a multi-armored approach incorporating natural and artificial mechanisms.

Unlike chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-based therapies, which recognize specific surface proteins, TCR therapies are engineered to recognize proteins normally found inside the cell. The use of a TCR allows the NK cell to recognize externalized protein fragments presented by the cell’s surface immune proteins.

“NK cells play a pivotal role in anticancer immunity and, following the successes of CAR T cell therapy and the potential for CAR NK therapies, TCR NK cells are positioned to be a next-generation agent for cancer therapy,”​ Rezvani said.

“We believe that the TCR NK cell approach will allow targeting of a broad range of tumor antigens, including cancer-specific neoantigens, and could pave the way for potentially safe and efficacious ‘off-the-shelf’ cell therapies for hematological malignancies and solid tumors.”

Rezvani’s work at MD Anderson has explored the role of NK cells in mediating innate immunological activity against human malignancies, as well as strategies to enhance their killing function. A Phase 1/2a clinical trial​ with cord blood-derived CAR NK cells reported encouraging results back in 2020, while Rezvani has successfully advanced 11 cell therapies into the clinic.

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