Astellas pledges $800m to Kelonia CAR-T alliance in cancer

Astellas pledges $800m to Kelonia CAR-T alliance in cancer

Astellas has signed an R&D and licensing deal with Kelonia Therapeutics that aims to develop CAR-T therapies for cancer that will push the boundaries of what can be achieved with the technology.

The $800 million agreement between Kelonia and Astellas’ Xyphos Biosciences subsidiary is designed to address limitations with the current generation of CAR-Ts.

The partners are focusing on in vivo CAR-Ts, modifying cells within the body so they do not need to be collected, processed, and returned to the patient in a process that can take weeks. The alliance will also explore the possibility of producing ‘convertible’ CAR-Ts, allowing the activity of the cell therapy to be controlled if, for example, a patient experiences serious side effects.

Kelonia is contributing its in vivo gene placement system (iGPS) to the partnership, which uses lentiviral vectors to deliver a genetic cargo preferentially to target cells in the body, reducing off-target side effects.

Meanwhile, Xyphos is bringing its ACCEL platform, which can generate off-the-shelf CAR-T cells and includes the ‘convertible CAR’ technology that allows their activity to be tuned in situ and extend the range of targets available in what has been described as a “steering wheel, accelerator, and brake” approach.

The companies are kicking off their collaboration with two undisclosed programmes, both in immuno-oncology, with Kelonia in line to receive an upfront payment of $40 million for the first. Xyphos has taken an option on the second, which will add another $35 million if taken up and, in the meantime, Kelonia will also receive R&D funding for work performed in the collaboration.

“Our iGPS platform has the potential to be a step change in the treatment of cancer,” said Kevin Friedman, chief executive and founder of Kelonia. “Combining Kelonia’s in vivo gene delivery capabilities with the ACCEL convertible CAR technology is an ideal marriage of technologies to create off-the-shelf, universal CAR-T cell therapies.”

Astellas bought Xyphos in 2019 in a $500 million-plus deal that included an upfront payment of $120 million, one of a series of deals in the cancer area that have also included a $1.7 billion partnership with Elpiscience for PD-L1 and SIRP-alpha-targeted bispecific antibody ES019 – signed last month – and a $175 million takeover of Propella Therapeutics and androgen biosynthesis inhibitor PRL-02 for prostate cancer in December.