Avectas announced that it has exclusively licenced from ONK Therapeutics (ONK) a Chimeric Antigen Receptor-directed Natural Killer (CAR NK) cell therapy incorporating ONK’s proprietary Death Receptor (DR5) TRAIL variant for the treatment of B-cell malignancies. Under the collaboration, ONK will be responsible for rapidly progressing the potential therapy to a Phase I clinical trial. The potential therapy will be engineered using Avectas’ proprietary non-viral cell engineering platform (Solupore®). Avectas will retain worldwide development and commercialization rights to the therapy.
Avectas has also, through a holding company, acquired a minority shareholding in ONK.
The collaboration between the two companies will target the development of a CAR that uses NK cells, optimally engineered (using Avectas’ Solupore technology) to both enhance targeting of specific cancer cells and increase therapeutic potency by adding a secondary cancer cell killing mechanism using the DR5 TRAIL variant. If successful, the therapy would be allogeneic – allowing for an off-the-shelf solution – and its cell-killing effects would be transient to enhance dose control.
Michael Maguire, PhD, CEO of Avectas, commented: “We are excited to collaborate with ONK and its expert team to develop this potentially breakthrough immuno-oncology therapy which seeks to improve on the challenges of scale and potency seen with first generation CAR therapies.” He continued, “Solupore was developed to address the urgent need for non-viral cell engineering solutions to support advanced therapies and so this collaboration is a natural next step for our business.”
Professor Michael O’Dwyer, CSO of ONK Therapeutics commented: “This exciting collaboration enables us to exploit Avectas’ expertise in non-viral gene engineering and will greatly accelerate our efforts to move novel CAR NK cells into the clinic. While early clinical data with CAR NK cells appear promising, resistance is still an issue. Incorporation of our unique proprietary DR5 TRAIL variant into CAR-NK cells provides a powerful, complementary killing mechanism to overcome resistance, which may have applicability in a broad range of cancers.”
Under the terms of the transaction, ONK will receive upfront fees, development and commercial milestones and royalties. Avectas has also, through a holding company, acquired a minority shareholding in ONK.
This collaboration builds on Avectas’ recent developments including a Series C funding, the issuance of a key US patent covering Soluporation and new collaborations with Vycellix of Florida, USA, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) in Toronto, Canada and entering the new NK Cell Centre of Excellence at Karolinska Institute, Sweden, as a partner.
The collaboration also builds on ONK Therapeutics’ success in securing funding under the Irish Government’s Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund (DTIF) call in partnership with the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland, based at NUI Galway.
Avectas is a cell engineering technology business developing a unique delivery platform to enable the ex-vivo manufacture of gene-modified cell therapy products, which will retain high in-vivo functionality. Our vision is to be a leading non-viral cell engineering technology provider, integrated into manufacturing processes for multiple autologous and allogeneic therapies, commercialized through development and license agreements. For more information, please visit http://www.avectas.com
About ONK Therapeutics:
ONK Therapeutics was founded in 2015 with the goal of developing novel anti-cancer therapies using Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells are one of the body’s strongest defences against cancer, being one of the most tumour cytotoxic components of the human immune system. The company’s strategy is to develop novel, off the shelf, NK cell-based therapies for cancer. Further, the company is seeking to enhance these NK cells through the introduction of a series of genetic modifications, creating a technology platform that can be tailored to multiple cancers. For more information, please visit www.onktherapeutics.com
NK cells kill targetted cancer cells, primarily by releasing toxic granules into the cancer cell. TRAIL, a protein expressed on the NK cell also contributes to killing by binding to death receptors (e.g. DR5) on the cell surface. TRAIL variants bind more tightly than natural TRAIL, generating a much stronger killing signal. Since TRAIL killing does not rely on recognition of a target antigen, TRAIL variants can help prevent the emergence of resistance to CARs.