Adaptimmune ‘ready for primetime’ as it prepares to launch T cell therapy for sarcoma, CEO Adrian Rawcliffe says

Philadelphia’s Adaptimmune isn’t new to the biotech scene, but CEO Adrian Rawcliffe says the company is finally “ready for primetime.”

Ahead of a Thursday presentation at JP Morgan on the cell therapy company’s five-year plan, Rawcliffe told Endpoints News he’s excited to be in a position that “very few biotech CEOs actually get to be in.”

“I can say that next year we’ll be launching our first product. And I think that’s particularly an achievement given it’s a completely homegrown product,” he said. “It’ll be the first engineered T cell therapy for a solid tumor in synovial sarcoma with ADP-A2M4. And probably the second cellular product, full stop, in the solid tumor setting. And it’s just incredibly exciting, and it’s also it’s a perfectly-sized opportunity for us.”

Rawcliffe said the industry until now has viewed Adaptimmune as more of a “low-key company,” but with ADP-A2M4 ready for launch, it’s demonstrated an ability to adapt with the current needs of oncological therapeutics research.

“It’s really cool for Adaptimmune, but most of all, it’s going to be really cool and a great benefit for the people with sarcoma,” he said. “I think, beyond that, the excitement from the rest of the markets and industry is what we can do outside of sarcoma. Last year, we showed responses in six different solid tumor types, with three wholly-owned clinical assets, two generations of MAGE-A4 targeting programs, and one of AFP which is (a protein) in liver cancer.”

The company is also moving forward in two pivotal trials, the first of which is the Spearhead-1 clinical trial for patients with synovial sarcoma where ADP-A2M4 will be put to the test. The second is a trial for esophageal cancers, which involves a much more significant population, Rawcliffe said.

“We believe that by being an integrated cell therapy company, we will deliver these products and huge value both for patients and obviously for our investors,” he said. “We’ve set out over the last five years to enable that we’ve delivered.”

Many times, biotech CEOs join certain companies based on a criteria of unmet medical needs that promising new technology says it can address. Rawcliffe said that wasn’t quite what drew him to make the jump from previous ventures at GlaxoSmithKline, where he spent years spearheading the pharma giant’s investments.

“Cell therapy companies are different and constructed differently. They have different cadences, and they have different capabilities,” he said. “We believe that the total summation of that puts us in a really good position to be a fully integrated cell therapy company with a range of products on the market and in late-stage development over the coming years.”

Rawcliffe envisions Adaptimmune’s technology, which focuses on engineering T cell receptors to recognize the cancer cells they should be trying to kill, as ultimately doing for T cell receptors “what Genentech and Amgen did for antibodies.”

“When you have new modalities of therapy, you have the opportunity for transformational change. You think about the impact of monoclonal antibodies on immune diseases, and how they went from science projects in academic labs to some of the most widely-used therapies — and certainly most valuable therapies out there — treating millions of patients globally,” he said.

What interested him about the cell therapy arena is that it focuses on doing something different as a means to treat an ongoing and notoriously tricky disease spectrum.

“It was the first time that I thought, ‘OK, if you could get that to work, you’ve got a real chance of reengineering the immune system to make a massive difference on broad patients with cancer,’” he said.