Immuno-oncology upstart Conkwest going public in $172.5M IPO
- Last year, biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong took over CA-based Conkwest.
- Conkwest is developing a next-generation CAR-T product based on off-the-shelf adaptive cell therapy.
- Soon-Shiong is confident that Conkwest can emerge as a winner in the CAR-T race with its engineered line of natural killer (NK) cells, which he believes are much more efficient than other types of reeingineered cells.
The most buzzed-about, not yet available form of immuno-oncology is chimeric antigen receptor therapy, or CAR-T. CAR-T is a therapy in which T-cells are removed from a patient's body and re-engineered to make them into deadly cancer-seeking cells, which then target a particular cancer and destroy it. On a molecular level, CARs are proteins that are attached to the T-cell during the modification process. They reenter the body looking for their match—specifically the antigens (also proteins) on tumor cells. The intention is to create an intense attraction, followed by a swift demise.
There are many different types of CAR-T and several important players in this space at the monent, including Juno Therapeutics and Novartis. However, Soon-Shiong, who became a well-known biotech player after developing and selling the breast-cancer drug Abranxane (paclitaxel) to Celgene, is confident that his company's approach to CAR-T will make it a frontrunner in this category.
One of the unique features of Conkwest's CAR-T is the use of NK cells that have been reengineered with CD16 receptors, which bind to antibodies and can enhance antibody-based drug activity. However, while the science underlying Conkwest's CAR-T program is compelling, many would argue that Soon-Shiong's reputation as a biotech visionary will be the primary driving force behind his company's upcoming IPO.