Sanofi’s technology to create natural killer (NK) cell therapies comes from a flurry of mergers and acquisitions. The pharmaceutical giant just struck a deal that adds CRISPR editing technology to its toolkit for developing NK cell-based cancer therapies.
CRISPR technology is from Scribe Therapeutics, a startup co-founded by CRISPR technology pioneer Jennifer Doudna. While the initial development of CRISPR used the Cas9 cutting enzyme, Alameda, Calif.-based Scribe’s platform consists of gene-editing and delivery tools based on CasX, a protein discovered in Doudna’s lab. CasX is a smaller protein, making it better suited for the in vivo gene-editing applications that are the focus of the startup’s internal research.
Sanofi will apply Scribe technology to ex vivo NK cell therapies. According to financial terms announced Tuesday, the pharmaceutical giant is paying $25 million up front. milestone development and commercialization payments to Scribe may exceed $1 billion; Scribe will also receive royalties from sales of any approved products resulting from the collaboration.
NK cells are a type of immune cell endowed with tumor-killing enzymes. NK cells seek out cancer cells to do their work and have applications in many types of tumors. Two years ago Sanofi licensed an off-the-shelf NK cell therapy from Kiadis Pharma that was in preclinical development. The stated goal was to pair this drug with Sarclisa, Sanofi’s antibody drug for multiple myeloma.
Months after the licensing deal was announced, Sanofi agreed acquires the biotech outright for €308 million in cash. Sanofi said Kiadis’ NK cell therapies will be developed as stand-alone treatments and in combinations with the pharmaceutical giant’s drugs. Sanofi’s pipeline currently includes one clinical-stage NC program from Kiadis: SAR445419, an off-the-shelf therapy, is in Phase 1 testing for acute myeloid leukemia.
NK cell research companies are working to bring cell therapy to solid tumors. The first cell therapies, based on engineering a patient’s own T cells, have so far only worked in blood cancers. Franck Nestle, Sanofi’s global head of research and chief scientific officer, said in a statement that his company sees NK cells as having applications in both solid tumors and blood cancers.
“This collaboration with Scribe complements our robust research efforts across the spectrum of NK cell therapy and offers our scientists unique access to engineered CRISPR-based technologies as they seek to deliver off-the-shelf NK cell therapies and novel combination approaches that improve the first generation of cell therapies,” he said.
Scribe came out of stealth in 2020, backed by a $20 million Series A round of funding. Last year Scribe closed a $100 million Series B round to fund further development of its technology platform and advance its suite of CRISPR-based therapies for neurodegenerative disorders. The biotech’s neuroscience work previously led to a research partnership with Biogen focused on developing CRISPR-based therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In May, the two companies announced that Biogen had exercised its option to extend the collaboration to additional disease target in gene therapy. That target was not disclosed.
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