- BioNTech, the German drug developer now best known for the coronavirus vaccine it developed in partnership with Pfizer, will buy a cancer cell therapy factory and related research from Gilead's Kite Pharma unit.
- The deal, which was announced on Monday, reflects BioNTech's continued commitment to its roots in cancer drug research, particularly cell-based immunotherapies. In January 2020, before the pandemic's reach became apparent, the biotech bought Neon Therapeutics, which was working on similar technology.
- Kite Pharma, which Gilead acquired in August 2017, will receive an undisclosed amount from BioNTech for its T cell receptor discovery platform and clinical manufacturing facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland. BioNTech said it will offer jobs to all 50 site employees and plans to hire more.
While BioNTech found significant success using its mRNA technology to develop one of the world's most effective coronavirus vaccines, the deal with Gilead suggests the company's focus on cancer hasn't changed. Besides the coronavirus vaccine, all of its drugs currently in human testing are for cancer.
The Gaithersburg site will pair with BioNTech's existing cell therapy facility in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. According to the company's statement, the site will support development of several types of cell therapies, including those based on T cell receptors, or TCRs, as well as those using chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs.
TCR therapy, like CAR-T cell treatment, is designed to redirect the patient's immune system to recognize and target tumors. TCRs differ in that they can target antigens — a kind of protein flag — both inside of and on the surface of cells. BioNTech hopes TCR therapy might be more effective for solid tumors, which have proven challenging to treat with CAR-T therapies.
In a statement, Kite CEO Christ Shaw said the deal would help the company focus its resources on CAR-T cell therapy. Gilead recently won Food and Drug Administration approval for Tecartus, a CAR-T treatment for a type of lymphoma and its second cell therapy cleared since it acquired Kite four years ago.
For BioNTech, the acquisition isn't its first deal to buy TCR technology from outside its own labs. The company acquired Neon early last year in a bargain-price deal worth $67 million. BioNTech has since been carrying forward Neon's research in T cell therapy.
The companies did not specify any further financial terms of the deal.