MD Anderson acquires inducible switch technologies for cell therapy

Asset purchase allows MD Anderson to incorporate CaspaCIDe® and GoCAR ® technologies into its cell therapy programs, out-license technology to interested parties

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center today announced it has acquired certain assets from Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, Inc. related to the CaspaCIDe® switch platform and the GoCAR® platform. The transaction also includes clinical-grade stocks of rimiducid, an agent used to trigger the switches.

As a result of this acquisition, MD Anderson may incorporate these platforms into its own cell therapy programs. The institution also intends to make the technology widely available via non-exclusive licenses to other academic institutions and to biopharmaceutical companies.

MD Anderson plans to focus on using the CaspaCIDe technology as a safety feature of cell therapies in development. The safety switch incorporates an inducible enzyme known as caspase-9, which initiates the first step of the apoptosis programmed cell death pathway. The switch can be triggered by rimiducid, leading to rapid elimination of cells containing the CaspaCIDe switch. MD Anderson’s Therapeutics Discovery division also plans to continue the clinical development of rimiducid in order to seek future approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

“We strive each day to advance new, innovative treatment options to improve the lives of our patients, and cell therapies hold tremendous promise as effective immunotherapies,” said Philip Jones, Ph.D., vice president of Research Strategy, Transformation and Operations at MD Anderson. “CaspaCIDe provides a critical safety mechanism which could be triggered as required to reduce side effects, and we look forward to its continued development at MD Anderson.”

Including this safety switch in cell therapies may offer clinicians the ability to quickly limit potential treatment-related toxicities that may occur. Potential applications include cell therapies where cytokine release syndrome and neurotoxicities have been observed, cell therapies targeting novel antigens with on-target/off-tumor safety concerns, and next-generation cell therapy constructs with higher potency.

“When designing novel cell therapies, we must always ensure patient safety remains a top priority. We have explored a variety of associated technologies, and case studies demonstrate that the CaspaCIDe technology is effective in rapidly eliminating the transduced cells,” said Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy. “We have incorporated CaspaCIDe into many of our own cell therapies under investigation, and we are excited about the prospect of broadening the potential applications of this technology in the future.”

Under a previous licensing agreement, MD Anderson has incorporated CaspaCIDe into multiple cellular therapy programs, including certain chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) natural killer (NK) cell therapies and plans for certain CAR T cell therapies. The current acquisition includes the previous licenses by MD Anderson and eliminates certain downstream financial obligations required under those licenses.

The asset acquisition also includes the transfer of certain intellectual property related to Bellicum’s GoCAR-T™ and GoCAR-NK™ technologies. Using the rimiducid-based switch system, GoCAR cell therapies feature an inducible MyD88/CD40 (iMC) activation switch designed to enhance proliferation and functional persistence of adoptive cell therapies by resisting exhaustion and by driving production of immunomodulatory cytokines to overcome inhibitory signals from the tumor microenvironment. GoCAR cell therapies may be particularly well-suited for use in solid tumors given their immune suppressive tumor microenvironment.