Novartis gains immune-cell cancer therapy in deal with University of Pennsylvania

Agreement follows Penn research team's 2011 publication of breakthrough results in several chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients treated with a chimeric antigen receptor technique

Register for free to listen to this article
Listen with Speechify
PHILADELPHIA—In an industry-academic alliance that aims toexpand the used of personalized T cell therapy for cancer patients, theUniversity of Pennsylvania and Novartis announced this week an exclusive globalresearch and licensing agreement to study and commercialize novel cellularimmunotherapies using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technologies.
The effort to study these CAR therapies was already underwaybefore the announcement; in fact, this agreement follows a Penn research team's2011 publication of breakthrough results in several chronic lymphocyticleukemia (CLL) patients treated with this personalized immunotherapy technique.But with this new alliance bolstering things, the parties say the way is nowpaved for pivotal studies that have the potential to expand the use of CARtherapies for additional cancers.
Together, Novartis and Penn will establish a new researchcenter to expedite study and development of gene transfer approach to diseasetreatment, which is said to be the first of its kind and will be dubbed the Centerfor Advanced Cellular Therapies (CACT). The center will be located on the Penncampus in Philadelphia, and it will be devoted to the discovery, developmentand manufacturing of adoptive T cell immunotherapies through a joint researchand development program led by scientists and clinicians from Penn, Novartis,and the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.
Penn officials say this new alliance "represents a marqueeachievement in Penn's commitment to translational science aimed at expeditingthe process of bringing novel therapies to patients" and they add that theventure will "bring full circle the 1960 discovery of the Philadelphiachromosome, the first description of a chromosome abnormality that causescancer."
"Penn's intellectual resources, combined with a pharmaceuticalindustry leader like Novartis, offer a powerful symbiotic relationship in ourmutual goal of finding more effective treatments for cancer," said Dr. J.Larry Jameson, dean of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University ofPennsylvania and executive vice president for the university's health system."With our shared commitment to rapidly advancing new therapies and cures,this new alliance will provide the support for the essential clinical trialswith engineered T cells, which could open doors for use of promising treatmentoptions for many cancer patients who have reached the end of currentlyavailable treatments."
Under the terms of the agreement, Penn grants Novartis anexclusive worldwide license to the technologies used in an ongoing trial ofpatients with CLL as well as future CAR-based therapies developed through thecollaboration. Novartis will invest in the establishment of the CACT and futureresearch of the technology. Additional milestone and royalty payments to Pennare also part of the agreement, but Novartis isn't offering up any details ofthe deal beyond that right now.
"Our early results in patients treated with chimericantigen receptors represent two decades of investment and perseverance in oureffort to treat cancer in an entirely new way, combining a highly targetedcell-based therapy with the might of a patient's own immune system," said Dr.Carl June, the leader of the 2011 Pennstudy of CARs and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in thePerelman School of Medicine as well as director of translational research atPenn's Abramson Cancer Center. "By joining forces with Novartis, we willnow have the resources and space to expand our research in new directions thatwe hope will change the way cancers of all kinds are treated." 
Although further studies are needed to explore the long-termviability of the treatment, June's team showed that in the patients studied sofar, months after infusion, the new cells had multiplied throughout thepatients' bodies and were capable of continuing their seek-and-destroy missionagainst cancerous cells.
In addition to continued trials in CLL, Penn has trials for engineeredT cell underway for other leukemias, but also for lymphoma, mesothelioma,myeloma and neuroblastoma as well.
According to Penn officials, two other companies also viedfor this kind of alliance with the university, but Novartis won out in partbecause in its product portfolio is Gleevec, which is used to treat CLL. Theuniversity has not disclosed who the other two suitors were. Apparently, theuniversity also garnered some interest from venture capitalists, but as Junewas quoted as saying by Bloomberg, partnering with an established company wasfar preferable to the hard and slow work involved in setting up a company forspin-out. 

Subscribe to Newsletter
Subscribe to our eNewsletters

Stay connected with all of the latest from Drug Discovery News.

March 2024 Issue Front Cover

Latest Issue  

• Volume 20 • Issue 2 • March 2024

March 2024

March 2024 Issue