- Looking to further boost its growing cell therapy business, Gilead Sciences on Wednesday said it plans to acquire Tmunity Therapeutics, a private biotechnology company trying to develop newer, better CAR-T treatments.
- CAR-T uses genetically engineered T cells to help the body fight diseases like cancer. Gilead currently markets two such products, Yescarta and Tecartus, which it obtained through the $12 billion purchase of Kite Pharma in 2017. Combined, sales of Yescarta and Tecartus were just under $400 million in the third quarter, a nearly 80% increase from the same three-month period a year prior.
- Gilead said that buying Tmunity should complement Kite’s cell therapy research capabilities by providing a new technology platform, a slate of preclinical- and clinical-stage programs, and a strategic partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. Financial terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed. The companies expect their deal to close early next year.
Tmunity was founded in 2015 by a team of cell therapy experts, including CAR-T pioneer Carl June. By early 2018, the company and its technology, which advertises highly customizable CAR-T therapies, had attracted $100 million in funding through a Series A round that saw participation from Gilead, among others.
Later, a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz would outfit Tmunity with another $75 million.
The company now lists eight programs in its pipeline, with more than half having entered human testing. The programs target a range of proteins as well as cancers, from prostate and ovarian to brain and blood.
Gilead, per terms of its deal, won’t gain access to all of these programs. The assets directed at the proteins PSMA and PSCA — which are shorthand names for prostate-specific membrane antigen and prostate stem cell antigen — are not part of the acquisition and will be spun-out by Tmunity. The PSMA program is among Tmunity’s most advanced, though safety concerns previously stalled its progress.
To Gilead, one of the transaction’s central assets is Tmunity’s partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, which, according to the company, offers “options and licenses to certain cell engineering and manufacturing technologies” developed in UPenn laboratories. June, whose team at Penn discovered the CAR-T medicine now sold as Kymriah, will also become a senior scientific adviser to Gilead’s cell therapy business along with the rest of Tmunity’s founders.
Gilead said that once its deal closes, the pact will be extended until 2026, though it could be further prolonged.
The planned buyout of Tmunity is the latest in a recent string of deals meant to bolster Gilead’s cell therapy business. Earlier this month, Kite agreed to spend $225 million on rights to an experimental CAR-T therapy being developed by Arcellx for patients with hard-to-treat multiple myeloma. And in October, Kite linked up with another California-based company, Refuge Biotechnologies, in a collaboration focused on improving the safety and effectiveness of cancer cell therapies.
While sales from Gilead’s cell therapy unit have spiked this year, company leadership has cautioned that such growth likely won’t be sustainable for long. On Gilead’s most recent earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Andrew Dickinson said a recent uptick in demand for Yescarta, which secured a key label expansion in April, should stabilize over the coming months.