- Novartis is deepening its investment in cancer cell therapy, licensing an experimental project developed by Legend Biotech that is in early-stage trials for two types of lung cancer, the smaller company said Monday.
- Novartis will pay Legend $100 million upfront to secure rights to the cell therapy, called LB2102, and could send Legend up to $1 billion more if clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones are met. Legend will complete Phase 1 testing, after which Novartis will assume development responsibilities.
- Legend said Novartis may use in its development plan its new T-Charge manufacturing platform, which aims to reduce the time it takes to make cancer-fighting cells outside the body as well as improve their durability. Cell therapies like Novartis’ Kymriah can induce long-lasting responses in patients, but they require a weekslong manufacturing process that carries the risk of failure or patient progression.
In signing Legend, Novartis has chosen a proven partner, as the biotech has already successfully developed the CAR-T drug Carvykti for the blood cancer multiple myeloma in partnership with Johnson & Johnson. These drugs involve taking patients’ T cells, re-engineering them to identify and attack tumor cells and then re-infusing them into patients.
With this deal, Novartis is going in a riskier direction. So far, CAR-T treatments have only been shown to successfully treat blood cancers like multiple myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma, but not solid tumors like lung cancer.
In addition, the protein LB-2102 targets, called DLL-3, hasn’t been a successful area of drug development. AbbVie signed a $6 billion deal for a DLL-3 targeting antibody-drug conjugate called Rova-T that it shelved after a Phase 2 trial failure. Since then Amgen also suspended a trial of a CAR-T drug that targeted DLL-3.
This summer, Legend initiated a trial of LB-2102 in small cell lung cancer, where Rova-T and Amgen’s CAR-T were tested, along with large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas. The deal covers other cell therapies targeting DLL-3.
Novartis’ T-Charge platform, which it’s currently using for two experimental CAR-Ts, is aimed at improving on the weaknesses of existing CAR-T drugs. The method seeks to preserve T cell “stemness,” or their ability to self-renew and mature.
By using it, Novartis hopes most of the division of cells can take place in patients’ bodies after infusion, which would cut the manufacturing time. It might also reduce T cell exhaustion, a state of reduced function that can occur when the immune system responds to infection or cancer for an extended time.