Sanofi will partner with the Californian biotechnology company Scribe Therapeutics in a deal that extends its exploration of new ways to build cancer cell therapies.
Under a partnership announced Tuesday, Sanofi will pay Scribe $25 million upfront to gain access to the five-year-old startup’s gene editing technology. The pharmaceutical company is also promising more than $1 billion in additional payments based on unspecified development and commercial milestones, although that money may never be paid out.
In return, Sanofi gets non-exclusive rights to use Scribe’s CRISPR-based gene editing technology to develop cancer treatments constructed from modified natural killer, or NK, cells. A type of immune defender, NK cells have drawn increasing interest from cancer drugmakers looking for alternatives to the T cells used in CAR-T treatments for leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
“This collaboration with Scribe complements our robust research efforts across the NK cell therapy spectrum and offers our scientists unique access to engineered CRISPR-based technologies as they strive to deliver off-the-shelf NK cell therapies and novel combination approaches that improve upon the first generation of cell therapies,” said Frank Nestle, Sanofi’s head of research and chief scientific officer, in a statement.
Sanofi missed the first wave of cancer cell therapy development, which companies like Novartis, Gilead and, more recently, Bristol Myers Squibb have led. But it appears interested in making up ground with bets on newer technologies.
In November 2020, Sanofi bought Kiadis Pharma and its pipeline of donor-derived NK cell therapies. Five months later, the company acquired Tidal Therapeutics, which was attempting to use messenger RNA to reprogram immune cells in the body to attack cancers.
While a much smaller financial commitment, the partnership with Scribe could help Sanofi better develop NK cells therapies. Scribe’s gene editing technology relies on the CRISPR framework pioneered by its cofounder Jennifer Doudna, but the company has developed its own DNA-cutting enzymes, too.
Scribe raised $100 million in a Series B round last spring and in March hired ex-Barclays banker David Parrot as its chief financial officer. In an interview with CFO Dive, Parrot said he had been brought on to help eventually launch an initial public offering, but noted the company would focus first on inking partnerships as public markets remain cool to IPOs.