Cell Therapy Deal Review: February

Author: Mark Curtis, 03/15/16

Welcome to your deal review for the month of February. Astellas tied-off its acquisition of Ocata while GSK and Adaptimmune expanded their collaboration to develop cell-based immunotherapies. AVROBIO, a new cell and gene company based in Boston, Mass, and Toronto, Ontario, launched with programs in leukemia in Fabry disease.

After a drawn out process, Astellas managed to secure its take-over of Ocata Therapeutics, which shareholders attempted to block citing the deal didn’t reflect the full value of Ocata’s pipeline. Despite pushback, the deal went through this past month valued at U.S. $379 million, or $8.50 per share. Ocata’s history dates back to the mid-90’s (formerly as Advanced Cell Technology). Over the years the company went through a number of reorganizations, but ultimately honed in on disorders of the eye as its core focus. Ocata will survive the deal as a consolidated subsidiary of Astellas.

Adaptimmune (ADAP), and its partner GSK, will burn $100 million in cash this year on continued clinical development of its TCR pipeline. The two companies announced an expansion to their previous deal in 2014 to expedite the development of Adaptimmune’s lead program in synovial sarcoma, targeting NY-ESO. The expanded deal will also include a new indication – myxoid round cell liposarcoma – and up to eight proof-of-principle studies to investigate combinations of TCR therapies with other anti-cancer agents, such as checkpoint inhibitors. Adaptimmune can receive up to U.S. $500 million in milestone payments from the deal, and will receive tiered sales milestones and a single to low double-digit royalty on global net sales.

Privately-held AVROBIO made its debut this month with funding from Atlas Venture to advance cell-based technologies for oncology and rare disease. The company’s technologies are based on the IP of Dr. Christopher Paige (University Health Network (UHN)) and Dr. Jeff Medin (formerly UHN and now at Medical College of Wisconsin). The company is now enrolling patients in a Phase 1 study investigating AVR-01 in patients with AML. AVR-01 is unique in the global cell-based immunotherapy pipeline for leveraging a patient’s own tumour cells, engineered to express interleukin-12, to combat cancer. Use of IL-12 to disrupt the tumour microenvironment is an emerging trend in oncology therapeutics. The company’s gene therapy technology, AVR-02, is comprised of a patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) engineered to express the alpha galactosidase gene, the enzyme that is deficient in Fabry disease. The company intends to deploy both platforms broadly within oncology and rare disease.

It’s refreshing to see a large U.S.-based venture investor, especially one of the calibre of Atlas Venture, look north of the border for investment; this is a testament to the increasing quality of Toronto’s research output.

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Mark Curtis

Mark Curtis

Mark is a Business Development Analyst at the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), where he collaborates with the team to help evaluate the commercial potential of regenerative medicine and cell therapy technologies. He began his career at Princess Margaret Hospital studying cellular reprogramming of human skin cells. Following this project, he left the laboratory and took on a role with Bloom Burton & Co., a healthcare-focused investment dealer. While there he supported the advisory team in carrying out scientific diligence on early-stage biotechnology companies. Prior to joining CCRM he was a consultant to Stem Cell Therapeutics, a Toronto-based biotechnology company focused on developing therapeutics targeting cancer stem cells. Mark received a Master’s degree from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, where he studied the directed differentiation of embryonic stem cells, and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, from Queen’s University. Follow Mark on Twitter @markallencurtis
Mark Curtis

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