TCR-focused Immatics adds another marquee name to its list of partners: GSK

Immatics, in its fecund deal spree, has lured GSK, as the British drugmaker refocuses its attention on the lucrative field of oncology.

On Thursday, the privately-held immuno-oncology company secured $50 million upfront in a collaboration with GSK on two T cell receptor (TCR) therapeutics focused on solid tumors. If all goes well, Immatics stands to earn more than $550 million in milestone payments, in addition to tiered royalties on net sales on each product.

Created in 2000 as a spinoff of the University of T?bingen, Germany, Immatic currently operates in the region, in Munich and has a presence in Houston, Texas. Over the years, the biotech has joined forces with a number of partners ? Genmab, Amgen, Morphosys, Roche, Celgene as well as University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center ? in its quest to develop both adoptive cell therapies and bispecific antibodies.

The GSK deal comes as the industry?s appetite for TCR therapies and their potential to target solid tumors ? a limitation of existing cellular therapies ? is burgeoning.

GSK has an existing partnership with UK-based Adaptimmune, another TCR player. Their lead cell therapy program, GSK3377794, employs TCR technology and is in a pivotal Phase II study in synovial sarcoma.

GSK is one of the few pharmaceutical companies with a clear TCR strategy. Apart from their Adaptimmune deal, they?re working on how to really make manufacturing commercially attractive and on cell engineering technology, Immatics chief Harpreet Singh noted in an interview with Endpoints News. ?And now with us, they have completed, in our view, the third leg of a strategy, and that is bringing in the right targets with Immatics.?

One of the key components of the immune system are T cells, which obliterate cancer cells by using T cell receptor (TCR) recognition of cell surface markers known as antigens. When a T cell recognizes a tumor antigen via the TCR, it snuffs the malignant cell on which it resides. TCR tech typically involves reengineering T cell receptors so that they can better recognize cancer proteins, sparking an assault on tumors. Unlike CAR-T cells that can recognize abnormal proteins expressed on the surface, TCRs can recognize tumor-specific proteins inside cells. That makes CAR-T therapies more amenable to blood cancers, while TCR therapies-in-development have potential across multiple tumor types.

Despite their abundant promise, the adoption of CAR-T therapies ? Novartis? Kymriah and Gilead?s Yescarta ? has underwhelmed initial expectations. The uptake of Kymriah was plagued by manufacturing problems, and despite Novartis? attempt to expand its capacity, sales continue to disappoint commercially, giving Yescarta an edge in the market. Meanwhile, notable side effects, as well as the therapies? expensive price tags, have also limited their use. A raft of drug developers is working on a fix for some of these constraints by developing off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies, designed to smoothen manufacturing complexities by using healthy donor cells.

In this Immatics/GSK deal, the partners will initially develop autologous T cell therapies with the option to add off-the-shelf cell therapies.

For GSK, Immatics has an edge in the TCR landscape by virtue of its target discovery platform, Singh suggested.

?I would say the differentiation isn?t, per se, in the TCR discovery platform ? there are a number of companies that can do this very well ? its by combining our unique target discovery database,? he said.

The company also has inked a number of licensing pacts focused on bispecifics, a class of emerging therapies that work in a dual capacity ? to recognize an antigen target on tumor cells in tandem with recognizing a receptor on T cells, in order to catalyze the obliteration of the cancer cell by the T cell.

The Celgene deal of 2019, like this GSK deal, is based on TCR therapies. But Immatics is now off the market for deals of this sort, Singh said. ?We do not envision that we will do further target by target deals?our focus is to move forward and advance our proprietary pipeline.?

In its lifetime ? and including the $50 million upfront from GSK ? Immatics has raised around $475 million in venture capital, strategic partnerships and grants.