The Dutch biotech Kiadis Pharma has licensed an off-the-shelf cell therapy program to the pharma giant Sanofi for up to €857.5M in a deal aiming to develop a combination immunotherapy for the blood cancer multiple myeloma.
The preclinical-stage cell therapy that Kiadis licensed is based on genetically modifying donor immune cells called natural killer cells, which hunt down and kill cancer cells.
As part of the deal, Sanofi will develop the Amsterdam-based firm’s natural killer cell therapy in combination with its own antibody cancer drugs including Sarclisa for the treatment of the blood cancer multiple myeloma. In addition, Sanofi has the license to use Kiadis’ technology to develop combination therapies for two undisclosed indications.
In return, Kiadis has received €17.5M upfront and may bag up to €857.5M in preclinical, clinical, regulatory, and commercial milestone payments.
Despite available treatments such as chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, multiple myeloma remains an incurable blood cancer that spells acute patient burden. As patients relapse, they can become ‘refractory’ to previously-used therapies and fail to make progress.
To provide more therapeutic options for multiple myeloma, Kiadis’ CEO Arthur Lahr told me that antibody drugs can be made to mark cancer cells. Natural killer cells then swoop in, recognize the antibodies, and kill the marked tumor cells.
Kiadis’ cell therapy complements Sanofi’s antibody drugs “because it provides a way to deliver cancer-attacking natural killer cells to patients,” Lahr said.
The antibody drugs that Sanofi will combine with Kiadis’ cell therapy target a molecule called CD38 that is found in large amounts on many cancer cells. However, this same molecule is present in natural killer cells and does vital jobs for the body, such as helping the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems.
“Thus therapeutic use of anti-CD38 antibodies can lead to depletion of the patient’s own natural killer cells — a process called ‘fratricide,’” Lahr said.
Tweaked to reduce CD38 levels, Kiadis’ modified natural killer cell therapy resists the fratricide effect, he continued.
The next steps for the collaboration are to progress the combination therapy through the preclinical stage and eventually begin testing in patients.
This sizable deal is likely welcome news for Kiadis, which abandoned a phase III cell therapy program for the treatment of graft-versus-host disease in blood cancer last year, causing mass layoffs in the company.
An increasing number of European startups are embracing natural killer cells as a basis for next-generation off-the-shelf cancer cell therapies. In May this year, Irish firms Avectas and ONK Therapeutics teamed up to develop natural killer cell therapies for blood cancer. In June, we also had the Norwegian startup Zelluna Immunotherapy raising €7.5M to fund the development of its own natural killer cell therapies for solid tumors.
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