News Feature | October 1, 2014

Atara Biotherapeutics, MSK Enter Into New Immunotherapy Alliance

By C. Rajan, contributing writer

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California based biotech company, Atara Biotherapeutics, has entered into an exclusive option agreement with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) for the development and commercialization of allogeneic T-cell therapies, which are currently being investigated in human clinical trials for the treatment of certain cancers and persistent viral infections.

MSK chair of the Department of Pediatrics, Dr. Richard O'Reilly said, "This collaboration brings the expertise and resources together to expand on the exciting clinical results we've observed and will allow us to bring these therapies to a broader patient population."

Under the terms of the agreement, Atara has the option to acquire a worldwide license to three clinical stage T-cell therapies, including:

  1. T-cells activated against Epstein Barr Virus, or EBV (in Phase 2);
  2. T-cells activated against cytomegalovirus, or CMV (in Phase 2); and
  3. T-cells activated against Wilms Tumor 1, or WT1 (in Phase 1).

While the value of the deal wasn't disclosed, Atara has said that MSK will receive cash and Atara common stock in return for the exclusive option. If Atara exercises its license options, then MSK will receive an upfront license payment and also be eligible to receive royalty payments and additional milestone payments based on the achievement of certain development, regulatory, and sales-related goals.

The two organizations have also agreed to collaborate on future research to develop additional cellular therapies, including T-cell therapies against other antigens and/or chimeric antigen receptor-modified T-cells (CAR-T).

The three T-cell therapies now acquired by Atara have a common platform, which involves enrichment of whole blood derived from third-party donors for T lymphocytes (T-cells). The T-cells are exposed to certain antigens to be activated and then characterized and stored for future use.

T-cells are an increasingly popular focus of recent therapies, as they play an important role in the body’s immune system. T-cells can be used to help the body’s own immune system fight viral infections and certain types of cancers by focusing the T-cells on specific proteins involved in these diseases.

“Our partnership with MSK supports the Atara vision to identify and develop therapies with broad potential to address a number of serious unmet medical needs using innovative science,” said Christopher Haqq, CMO for Atara. “We believe that these off-the-shelf T-cell therapies hold substantial promise for patients who have limited treatment options.”

Atara was created in 2012 as a spinout of Amgen and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Amgen has licensed six drugs to Atara, all of which are in various stages of development, ranging from preclinical to Phase 1 trials, and are indicated for kidney diseases, cancer, and other conditions.