Autolus, London start-up, got multimillion financing and took a step towards implementation in the UK of “living medicine” in cancer therapies as it launches clinical trials.
Company is looking to break into the field of “Car-T” – one of the hottest in oncology, in which immune cells are extracted from patients, genetically engineered in the lab to fight cancer, and infused back into their bloodstream.
Range of the most prominent pharmaceutical companies have made moves into this area. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the first Car-T product, from Novartis of Switzerland last month, while Gilead of the US bought Kite Pharma for $12 bn to obtain its Car-T development programme. Two weeks ago Adaptimmune, based in Oxford, but quoted on Nasdaq and carrying out clinical work in the US — announced a £48 mln agreement with GSK to commercialise T-cell cancer products.
Autolus, which was spun out of University College London in 2014, has received £70 mln funding from two recently floated UK bioscience investment groups, Syncona and Arix, and from Neil Woodford’s Woodford Patient Capital Trust. It is valued at about £110 mln.
It is carrying out three T-cells studies using the chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, looking at a therapy called Auto2 in multiple myeloma and another called Auto3 in two separate groups: children with leukaemia and adults with lymphoma.
Positive clinical results achieved by early entrants into the field, which showed an apparent curing of the disease in some patients with advanced blood cancers, have turned Car-T into a crowded field of research. The International Society for Cellular Therapy estimates that more than 40 companies are working on Car-T and similar “living” drug treatments.
Top management of Autolus say that their “dual targeting” approach, which makes two genetic changes in patients’ T-cells, will give them a competitive edge.
According to estimates, the three clinical trials taking place in several UK hospitals, will involve about 250 patients and be completed by late 2021.