GSK is trimming back in cancer cell therapy research, disclosing plans to end partnerships with Lyell Immunopharma and Adaptimmune that were intended to develop immunotherapies for solid tumors.
In a regulatory filing late Monday, Lyell, a well-funded cell therapy developer that went public last year, said the British drugmaker ended a 2019 deal following a “strategic review” of its pipeline. U.K. biotechnology company Adaptimmune, in a separate announcement, said it regained rights from GSK to two cell therapy programs.
Shares of Lyell slumped 10% on Tuesday. Adaptimmune shares fell 13% before rebounding later in the morning.
According to Lyell, GSK’s decision stemmed from disappointing data for a therapy known as lete-cel, which the drugmaker has been developing with Adaptimmune since 2014 and licensed in 2017. The treatment was recently one of GSK’s top cancer drug prospects, in development for synovial sarcoma, lung cancers and other solid tumors. It’s meant to work by genetically modifying cells to detect NY-ESO, a protein expressed on several types of tumors.
GSK doubled down on the approach in 2019 through a research collaboration with Lyell, which was developing a newer type of NY-ESO cell therapy. GSK paid Lyell $250 million upfront to start the deal, which led to two candidates, including one cleared this year to enter human testing. (Until last year, GSK also had a deal with Immunocore to develop an antibody drug targeting NY-ESO.)
In August, Lyell disclosed GSK had reservations about its NY-ESO cell therapy research. GSK “did not observe the anticipated level of clinical activity” in a lete-cel study in non-small lung cancer and stopped enrollment, Lyell revealed in a quarterly earnings report. The finding created “new uncertainty” about its own NY-ESO development, the filing said.
GSK has since given up, as well as on a separate Adaptimmune cell therapy targeting a tumor protein called PRAME. Lyell said it will stop work on both NY-ESO programs, but noted it still has enough cash to last through 2025 without GSK’s support.
Adaptimmune said the terms of the transfer agreement are being negotiated, but claimed GSK’s decision to return rights to its two programs was “based on Adaptimmune’s deep expertise” in developing cell therapies for solid tumors.
“With full ownership [of these programs], we will be able to bring the benefits of cell therapy to an even larger number of people with cancer," said Adaptimmune CEO Adrian Rawcliffe, in a statement.
In an emailed statement to BioPharma Dive, a GSK spokesperson said the moves were made to “improve R&D productivity to deliver future growth.”
“At times, this includes taking tough decisions to stop clinical programs and focus our resources where we see the greatest potential to make a difference for patients, aligned with our R&D priorities,” the spokesperson said. She didn’t specify whether another cell therapy deal with German biotech Immatics Biotechnologies that’s focused on solid tumors will be affected.
GSK remains a top investor in Lyell, too, holding 12% of the company as of April. The biotech, co-founded by former National Cancer Institute director Rick Klausner, raised $425 million last year in one of the sector’s largest initial public offerings in recent years. At about $6 apiece, shares now trade well below their $17 debut price.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from GSK emailed to BioPharma Dive after publication.