Syncona, UCLB form Autolus cancer immunotherapy company
Friday, January 23, 2015
Syncona, a London-based subsidiary of the Wellcome Trust, and UCL Business, the wholly-owned technology transfer company of University College London (UCL), have announced the creation of Autolus, a London-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of next-generation engineered T-cell therapies for hematological and solid tumors. Autolus is founded upon the work of Dr. Martin Pule, an academic clinical hematologist and thought-leader in T-cell engineering. Syncona has committed $33.5 million to Autolus in a Series A financing. Dr. Christian Itin, former CEO of Micromet, has joined the company as chairman.
Recent clinical trials of engineered T-cell treatments for hematological malignancies performed by various groups suggest that chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells have the potential to transform cancer therapy. Realization of that potential will require innovative technologies to program the properties of T-cells to increase efficacy and safety, and to access tumor types which are not addressable with the current generation of CAR T-cell technology. Autolus is a next-generation engineered T-cell company, developing a series of CAR T-cell products based on its proprietary targets, constructs and technologies.
Martin Pule, chief scientific officer of Autolus and senior lecturer at the UCL Cancer Institute and NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Center, said, “It is exciting to be involved in Autolus, where we have an opportunity to bring innovative new therapeutic approaches to patients who often have no alternative treatment path. The key will be to remain at the cutting-edge of T-cell engineering to create a new generation of programmed T-cells acting as autonomous agents to kill tumor cells. What we’ve seen so far in the CAR T-cell field is only the beginning.”
Christian Itin, chairman of Autolus, said, “A key element of Autolus’ strategy is to progress CAR T-cell products quickly into clinical trials, leveraging our strong partnership with UCL. The company has engaged a team of thought-leading academics in London as advisors, and will perform its phase I clinical studies and manufacturing within the academic infrastructure of the city, including the integrated cancer clinical trials infrastructure at University College Hospital and the expert cell therapy manufacturing facility at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital.”
CAR immunotherapy involves re-programming a patient’s immune system to kill tumor cells. T-cells are extracted from a patient’s blood, manipulated outside the body to incorporate the CAR gene, and then returned to the patient by infusion. The CAR gene introduces a targeting mechanism to the T-cells, enabling them to recognize, engage and destroy tumor cells in a highly-specific manner. Initial clinical trials of CAR T-cells in B-cell malignancies, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), suggest that this approach may transform treatment of cancer patients, many of whom have no other therapeutic options.
The work of Pule’s team has been supported by multiple government and charitable sources including Cancer Research U.K. Center for Drug Development, Leukemia and Lymphoma Research, The Kay Kendall Leukemia Fund, the Neuroblastoma Society, the Medical Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Center, University College London Hospitals, the UCL Therapeutic Innovation Fund, the UCLB Proof of Concept Fund and the European Union framework 6 and 7 programs. UCLB have in-licensed intellectual property from Cancer Research U.K.’s commercial arm, Cancer Research Technology, to support aspects of the program.