- Editas Medicine will work with German immunotherapy maker Immatics to use CRISPR gene editing tools to boost the capabilities of an emerging type of cell therapy focused on gamma delta T cells, the companies announced Tuesday.
- Through the deal, Immatics will gain non-exclusive rights to Editas’ technology and intellectual property, which includes gene editing patents awarded to The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, though Editas will get an upfront cash payment and potentially future payouts and royalties if the alliance leads to programs that progress.
- The alliance comes just a week after Immatics expanded a longstanding partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb to include new work on gamma delta cell therapies, which have shown early promise as a possible alternative to the CAR-T treatments sold by Novartis, Gilead and Bristol Myers Squibb.
Though small in scope, Immatics and Editas’ deal adds to a flurry of recent activity involving treatments that harness gamma delta T cells, rare white blood cells with unique tumor-fighting capabilities.
Unlike the T cells used in Novartis, Gilead and Bristol Myers Squibb’s treatments, gamma delta cells have elements of both innate and adaptive immunity, which could enable them to generate a broader response against cancers. These cells also have key differences that make them less likely to trigger graft-versus-host disease, give them the potential to persist in the body for years, and to recognize a range of targets.
Those traits have already prompted drugmakers including Takeda, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers and Regeneron to make investments. Clinical data presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology has further elevated the profile of gamma delta cell therapy, as a treatment from Adicet Bio has shown early promise against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Immatics has already capitalized on the momentum, turning its alliance with Bristol Myers into a new, lucrative deal. Now Immatics is bringing gene editing tools in as well.
Genetic engineering is already part of many cell therapies, as CAR-T treatments involve modifications that help T cells recognize cancer. But CRISPR and other gene editing approaches could help do more. Allogene Therapeutics, for example, uses gene editing to make changes aimed at reducing the risk of graft-versus-host disease. Nkarta and CRISPR Therapeutics plan to give treatments involving “natural killer” cells, which share some similarities with gamma delta T cells, more tumor-killing punch.
Immatics and Editas appear to share a similar goal, saying in a statement that they want to make gamma delta cells with “enhanced tumor recognition and destruction.” Those potential benefits do come with added risk, however. U.S. regulators halted testing of Allogene’s programs last year to investigate whether the gene editing involved in its treatment led to a “chromosomal abnormality” in a treated patient. Follow-up investigation exonerated Allogene’s treatment, but the setback led to a lengthy delay.
For Editas, the deal adds to multiple other partnerships involving cell therapy. The company is already working with Bayer's Bluerock Therapeutics subsidiary on natural killer cell therapies for solid tumors, and with Bristol Myers on so-called alpha-beta T cell treatments.