T cell image

UK makes £30m investment in T-Cell cancer therapy

pharmafile | January 22, 2015 | News story | Research and Development, Sales and Marketing Autolus, Cancer, London, T cell, UK, government, oncology, syncona 

The UK is making a £30 million R&D investment into a promising new type of cancer treatment and is to be supported by Cancer Research UK.

The money will be used to form a spin-out biopharma company – Autolus – from University College London to develop and commercialise new therapies for blood and solid tumours called chimeric antigen receptor-T (CAR-T) cells.

Healthcare investment firm Syncona has provided the cash and will now be taking forward the research in collaboration with UCL with the aim of progressing to clinical trials. Edward Hodgkin, partner with Syncona and chief executive of Autolus, says CAR T-cell products “have the potential to transform cancer therapy”.

T-cells are a type of immune cell collected from the patient’s own blood. After collection, the T-cells are genetically engineered to produce special receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). CARs are proteins that allow the T-cells to recognize a specific protein (antigen) on tumour cells.

These engineered CAR T-cells are then grown in the laboratory and then transplanted into the patient. The aim is that the T cells multiply in the patient’s body, and recognise and kill cancer cells.

Early clinical trials have shown that CAR T-cells could be highly effective in treating patients with leukaemias and lymphomas that have not responded to standard anti-cancer treatments.

Several companies have candidate CAR T-cell treatments in the pipeline. This month Novartis and Amgen announced an R&D partnership that will focus on producing them. And Celgene is collaborating with biotech BlueBird Bio and the Baylor College of Medicine to develop such therapies.

The new company is founded on the work of Dr Martin Pule, a clinical haematologist at the UCL Cancer Institute. Pule says: “Our research is the culmination of many years work which would not have been possible without public and charitable funding.

“We now have the resources to accelerate development and clinical testing of these exciting technologies… and access the considerable talent and knowledge available in the UK industrial biotechnology and biopharmaceutical sectors.”

Life sciences minister George Freeman says the investment proves the UK “is at the forefront of financing innovative biomedical treatments that have the potential to give real patient benefits.

“It is early days, but this significant £30 million commitment could revolutionise cancer treatments and is a huge boost for the NHS.”

The work will be supported by Cancer Research UK’s centre for drug development. Dr Nigel Blackburn from the charity says: “This announcement provides a great example of how charitable funding married with world class expertise in experimental medicine can enable rapid translation of new scientific discoveries into benefits for cancer patients.”

Lilian Anekwe

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