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US biotech SQZ Biotechnologies has expanded a collaboration with Roche to develop cancer therapies based on antigen presenting cells, which may be able to target solid tumours and which are cheaper to make than the recently approved CAR-T drugs.
The deal announced late yesterday expands a collaboration that began in 2015 to a deal worth more than $1.375 billion if all development targets are met.
SQZ’s technology is based around antigen presenting cells (APCs), which occur naturally in the body and present antigen on their surface to stimulate a T-cell response against that particular antigen.
SQZ is able to genetically engineer APCs with tumour antigens, that when injected into the body can produce powerful responses from CD8 T-cells – also known as killer T-cells.
The hope is that these killer T-cells will produce a strong response against any tumour target of interest, across a wide range of cancers.
Roche already has a cancer immunotherapy on the market – its Tecentriq (atezolizumab) is already approved in certain kinds of bladder and lung cancer.
But unlike Novartis and Gilead it does not have cell therapy approved yet and is looking to develop cell therapies that could be used in solid tumours, instead of blood cancer like its rivals’ CAR-T therapies.
Under the collaboration, SQZ may receive up to $125 million in upfront payment and near-term milestones.
SQZ could earn up to $250 million in clinical, regulatory and sales milestones per product that emerges from the collaboration.
The Massachusetts-based biotech may receive development milestone payments of over $1 billion. Within the collaboration, SQZ and Roche could share commercial rights for certain approved products.
Howard Bernstein, chief scientific officer of SQZ, said: “This collaboration allows for a SQZ APC product engine that could potentially generate products with more potent immunologic responses through a simplified, more efficient manufacturing process.”
Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) drugs are potentially curative in the patients that respond – but are very expensive to make as they involve harvesting a patient’s T-cells, genetically modifying them in a lab, and then re-injecting them to fight cancer.