- Gene therapy biotech Sangamo Therapeutics is betting genetically modified immune cells can play as much of a role in treating immunological diseases as they have in certain blood cancers, announcing Monday plans to buy small French company TxCell and its research programs for $84 million.
- TxCell's approach uses chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology to engineer a type of immune cell known as regulatory T cells or Tregs. Unlike the CAR-T cell therapies that have emerged as a promising treatment in leukemia and lymphoma, however, TxCell aims to used CAR-modified Tregs to control the immune system rather than unleash it.
- Per deal terms, Sangamo will pay €2.58 in cash per TxCell share, for a total deal value of €72 million, or roughly $84 million. When the deal closes, expected in the fourth quarter, TxCell would become a subsidiary of Sangamo and continue to operate in Valbonne, France.
Sangamo is best known for its work with zinc finger nucleases, a gene editing approach that predates the surging interest in CRISPR/cas9. While arguably less in the spotlight, Sangamo has secured collaboration deals with Pfizer, Gilead, Bioverativ and Shire as its assembled a gene and cell therapy pipeline spanning hemophilia, lysosomal disorders and several blood diseases.
With the deal for TxCell, Sangamo will expand its cell therapy research to explore the role played by Tregs in immunological diseases such as graft-versus-host, Crohn's and multiple sclerosis.
Tregs help to regulate and check the immune system, preventing autoimmunity by promoting tolerance of proteins that mark the body's own cells and tissue.
TxCell's research into genetically engineering Tregs remains preclinical, but the biotech believes CAR technology could be used to teach the immune cells to tolerate grafted tissue or to tap down unregulated immune responses in diseases like Crohn's.
Importantly, CAR technology could offer a way to deliver specific immunosuppression rather than the broader suppressive effect of drugs like TNF inhibitors — or at least that's Sangamo and TxCell's hope.
"We believe CAR-Treg therapies will prove to be as exciting for immunology as CAR-T has been for oncology," said Sangamo CEO Sandy Macrae in a July 23 statement.
Research into Tregs has accelerated of late. Last year, for example, Celgene, Novartis and Eli Lilly all inked deals to test approaches aimed at upregulating Tregs.
TxCell's first candidate, in solid organ transplant, is set to enter Phase 1/2 testing next year in Europe, pending submission of a Clinical Trial Application to regulators there. If all goes according to plan, TxCell believes it will be the first clinical trial of a "CAR-Treg."
Investors representing approximately 53% of TxCell's share capital and voting rights have agreed to sell their stakes in TxCell to Sangamo at the price of €2.58 per share.
Sangamo stock inched higher by about 2% Monday morning, before falling back to trade around $15.15 per share. Shares in TxCell, which trade on the Paris exchange, more than doubled from less than $1 per share to a little less than the acquisition tender price.