Blackstone commits $250 million to kick off new CAR-T company with Intellia, Cellex

Blackstone Life Sciences on Tuesday said it is committing $250 million towards the launch of a new company with Intellia Therapeutics and Cellex Cell Professionals focused on developing allogeneic universal CAR-T cell therapies for immuno-oncology and autoimmune diseases. The new venture will have an exclusive license to combine Intellia's CRISPR/Cas9-based "off-the-shelf" cell platform with the switchable, universal CAR-T cell platforms, UniCAR and RevCAR, developed by Cellex's GEMoaB subsidiary.

Andrew Schiermeier, current chief operating officer of Intellia, will lead the launch as CEO of the new firm, which is yet to be named. "Our focus is on providing significantly safer and more efficacious treatments to patients who are suffering from hard-to-treat cancers and autoimmune diseases," Schiermeier said, adding that the launch "represents the first of many steps to addressing the various limitations that currently exist in the cell therapy space."

Broad applicability with merged platforms

According to Cellex founder Gerhard Ehninger, GEMoaB's switchable CAR-T platform has already shown early signs of efficacy and a favourable side-effect profile in an ongoing Phase Ia trial of relapsed/refractory acute myeloid leukaemia patients, although he suggested the technology has "broad potential applicability." He said pairing GEMoaB's platform with Intellia's genome editing capabilities "will allow us to potentially replace the living drug, currently manufactured from the patient's own immune cells, by cells from healthy donors. Our goal is for these cells to be immediately available to patients."

Meanwhile, Intellia and the new company will simultaneously enter into a co-development and co-funding agreement to develop an allogeneic universal CAR-T cell product for an immuno-oncology indication. Intellia will also have an option to enter into a second similar agreement from selected allogeneic universal CAR-T cell therapy products that the parties will develop through the collaboration. GEMoaB has had an ongoing collaboration with Intellia since last year to develop next-generation cellular immunotherapies based on the RevCAR and CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing platforms.

Potential to 'leapfrog' current CAR-Ts

The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, giving Blackstone Life Sciences, Intellia and Cellex equal ownership of the new company, which will be headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It will also absorb GEMoaB, with its established offices and laboratories in Dresden, Germany, as a subsidiary. Former Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt, currently a senior advisor to Blackstone Life Sciences, will chair the new company's board of directors.

"We believe that this exciting effort has the potential to leapfrog current CAR-T technologies and improve the standard of care for a broad range of patients," remarked Nicholas Galakatos, global head of Blackstone Life Sciences, noting that "as the sole founding investor, [we] will be actively involved in building this platform, leveraging our…expertise in oncology and our scale capital."

Last July, Blackstone announced that its life sciences fund closed at its hard cap of $4.6 billion of total capital commitments, making it the largest life sciences private fund raised to that point. Some other notable investments by Blackstone Life Sciences include up to $2 billion last year in Alnylam to help advance RNAi therapeutics. Prior to that, it invested $250 million in a joint venture with Novartis focused on next-generation targeted therapies for cardiovascular disease, and also contributed $400 million to a joint venture with Ferring Pharmaceuticals to develop and market a gene therapy to treat bladder cancer.

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