- A new cancer cell therapy developer emerged on Tuesday, backed by the biotechnology company Replay and The University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center.
- Dubbed Syena, the new company is built around cell therapy research done by MD Anderson’s Katy Revzani, a professor of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy there. It will also draw on cell and genome engineering technology that it has licensed from Replay.
- Replay follows a “hub-and-spoke” business model, sharing its technology across multiple spinout companies, each focused on its own therapeutic area. Syena comes from something of a different mold, having been created in partnership with MD Anderson, which is a hub for cancer drug research.
As the field of cancer cell therapy has developed, the types of companies involved have multiplied. New startups continue to emerge, taking their place alongside more mature biotechs and large pharmaceutical companies like Novartis, Gilead, Bristol Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson.
Drugmakers are also exploring new kinds of cell therapies, focusing recently on so-called natural killer, or NK, cells instead of the T cells that form the backbone of CAR-T cell therapy. Syena plans an additional twist, combining NK cells with T cell receptor, or TCR, engineering, potentially opening up intracellular proteins for drug targeting.
“NK cells play a pivotal role in anticancer immunity and, following the successes of CAR T-cell therapy, and the potential for CAR-NK therapies, TCR-NK cells are positioned to be a next-generation agent for cancer therapy,” Rezvani said in a statement.
Researchers hope NK cell therapies could avoid some of the severe safety issues associated with CAR-T, while potentially offering other advantages in manufacturing. Revzani’s work has involved NK cells derived from cord blood, rather than extracting immune cells from each individual patient.
Results published in The New England Journal of Medicine two years showed the potential of this approach in treating certain types of blood cancer.
Syena will expand on Revzani’s research to build a pipeline of TCR-NK cell therapies licensed from MD Anderson. The first will target a cancer cell protein flag known as NY-ESO-1. The company expects the program to enter human testing in the second quarter this year.
Syena is not disclosing the amount of funding it has received so far, a spokesperson for MD Anderson confirmed to BioPharma Dive.
Its launch comes at a difficult time for young drugmakers, which face a harder path to obtaining financing than they have in previous years. And while cancer cell therapy successes have brought greater investor interest, biotechs in the space have not been immune to the sector’s pressures. In January, three cell therapy developers announced plans to cut staff and pare back research in order to stay afloat.