Novartis expands collaboration with Oxford BioMedica to include CTL019 cell therapy

Novartis expanded its existing collaboration with Oxford BioMedica to include the manufacturing of lentiviral vectors expressing the cell therapy CTL019, the UK company reported Friday. Novartis, which is developing the chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy to treat leukaemia, will pay Oxford BioMedica up to $90 million over the next three years, including an upfront license payment and an equity investment. Shares in Oxford BioMedica gained as much as 16.2 percent on the news.

As part of a one-year collaboration reached in May 2013, Oxford BioMedica agreed to manufacture viral lentivectors using its LentiVector gene delivery technology for Novartis' programme. In the latest deal, Novartis will pay $14 million upfront, including $4.3 million to acquire a 2.8-percent equity stake in Oxford BioMedica, for a non-exclusive worldwide development and commercialisation licence in oncology under the LentiVector platform. Oxford BioMedica said it also granted Novartis an exclusive licence for the worldwide development and commercialisation of all CAR-T cell products arising from the process development collaboration.

Novartis obtained CTL019, also known as CART-19, under a 2012 agreement with the University of Pennsylvania. Early-stage results have shown that the investigational therapy, which targets the CD19 protein linked to several B-cell malignancies, led to sustained remissions of up to a year in two patients with advanced chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, and to complete remission in 19 of 22 children with lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Oxford BioMedica CEO John Dawson said the latest deal, which he described as "transformational" for the company, demonstrated the drugmaker's ability "to solve complex gene and cell therapy manufacturing challenges." Dawson added that the transaction could bring "financial freedom" to the UK company, which stands to receive undisclosed royalties on potential future sales of products covered by the agreement.

Along with CTL019, Novartis is pursuing other efforts in immunotherapy and recently entered a collaboration to investigate three of its molecularly targeted compounds in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb's PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer. Earlier this year, the Swiss company also acquired CoStim Pharmaceuticals, adding late-discovery stage immunotherapy programmes focused on a number of oncology targets, including PD-1. For more information on the immuno-oncology field, see The Future of Cancer Immunotherapy: KOL Views Bring Opportunities into Sharp Focus.

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