Biotech company Prescient Therapeutics (ASX: PTX) emerged from a trading halt this morning to unveil two significant licences related to its universal immune receptor technology platform, currently in the pre-clinical development stage.
In a statement to the market, Prescient announced it has obtained a global, exclusive licence from the University of Pennsylvania in the US for an innovative universal immune receptor platform for the development of innovative cell therapies.
As a supplement, the company has also obtained a non-exclusive licence from Oxford University in the UK to use the novel SpyTag/SpyCatcher molecular binding system, which complements the University of Pennsylvania’s technology.
Prescient said it plans to incorporate Penn’s immune receptor technology, alongside Oxford University’s molecular binding system to build a “chimeric universal cell therapy platform” called OmniCAR for next-generation cell therapy product development, including next-generation CAR-T.
The terms of the deal state that licencing payments will include an undisclosed upfront fee, in addition to industry-standard milestones linked to the achievement of key steps during the development and regulatory approval of resultant products, as well as royalties on future commercial sales.
Prescient stressed its latest licencing agreements are non-dilutive, have no material financial impact for the time being and would be conducted within the company’s current budget.
“This is a transformative achievement for Prescient that allows the company to move quickly forward with the development of innovative new cell therapy products for oncology,” Prescient chief executive officer Steven Yatomi-Clarke said.
He added that Prescient stands to incur “significant medical and commercial benefits” if the OmniCAR program advances existing techniques of attacking solid tumours, as well as liquid cancers.
“The licence agreements with Penn and Oxford align perfectly with Prescient’s objective of developing personalised cell therapy medicines and complements our targeted therapy pipeline. We are already working on leveraging our targeted therapy expertise in other cell therapy applications,” Mr Yatomi-Clarke said.
Next-generation of cancer therapy
Cancer treatment is gradually changing – moving from traditional treatments to genetically modifying a patient’s own cells to recognise and kill cancer cells that are otherwise hidden from the patient’s immune system.
However, the latest round of cell therapy methods faces considerable challenges, including manufacturing, safety and adaptability, that limits their broader use.
More specifically, clinicians cannot control conventional cell therapy products after they are infused into a patient, thereby creating significant safety concerns if toxicities are observed.
Many conventional cell therapies can only be directed to target a single cancer antigen, limiting their effectiveness when cancer further mutates or where cancers express different antigens, which is especially relevant in solid tumours.
According to Prescient, this changing trend heralds a “paradigm shift” in cancer treatment with the University of Pennsylvania considered to be a pioneer and global leader in the field following multiple ground-breaking discoveries over the past decade.
The company’s OmniCAR program intends to enhance the safety and efficacy of current generation CAR therapies and will enable Prescient’s in-house development of next-generation cell therapies.
“The innovations in cell therapy have proven to be a genuine turning point in the history of medicine, but it is not without its challenges,” Penn Associate Professor Daniel J Powell Jr said.
“We believe that this universal immune receptor platform technology has the potential to overcome many of the challenges currently faced in cell therapy product development,” he added.
According to Prescient, the OmniCAR platform intends to overcome several shortcomings of current cell therapies.
The new OmniCAR approach is seeking to create “modular chimeric immune receptor cells” that decouple antigen recognition from downstream signalling. The method also employs the SpyTag/SpyCatcher covalent binding system which Prescient describes as a type of “molecular velcro” that can bind to its targets.
Moreover, OmniCAR is designed to offer control and flexibility that is beyond the reach of current cell therapies like CAR-T with Prescient claiming the platform is being developed to provide clinicians with control over cell therapy expression in vivo, by allowing them to tune cell therapy activity either up or down post-infusion.
This also enables clinicians to switch off cell therapy activity altogether by ceasing administration of binders, or in other words, a built-in “kill switch”.
OmniCAR could also be developed to become compatible with alternative cell therapy approaches including T-cells, NK cells, macrophages and stem cells.
“As the industry attempts to drive down the cost and time of delivering cell therapy products to patients, OmniCAR’s flexibility and control will be an increasingly valuable tool, by seeking to eliminate the need for multiple manufacturing runs per patient, and its potential compatibility with off the shelf cell therapy products,” the company said.
Prescient shares were trading 31% higher at $0.059 in morning trade.