UCL, Imperial & Cell Therapy Catapult collaborate to advance leukaemia cell therapy

A novel cell therapy approach to the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia is to be developed further via an innovative partnership between the Cell Therapy Catapult, which is focused on the development of the UK cell therapy industry to increase the nation’s health and wealth, UCL Business (UCLB) and Imperial Innovations. The new therapy was developed initially at Imperial College and then at UCL by scientists funded by the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. It targets disorders associated with overexpression of the WT1 antigen, such as acute myeloid leukaemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. As part of the deal, the Cell Therapy Catapult will work to accelerate the delivery of Phase I/II clinical trials.

To expedite this exciting new therapy, UCLB, Imperial Innovations and the Cell Therapy Catapult have formed a joint venture, Catapult Therapy TCR Limited, which will assume responsibility for its further development. The technology transfer companies have contributed their relevant patents and know-how to Catapult Therapy TCR Limited, and will be eligible for late-stage development milestones and royalties as the therapy progresses. The Cell Therapy Catapult will invest up to £10m to take the therapy into and through Phase II trials, providing a full range of expertise including manufacturing development and clinical trial sponsorship.

The product is a gene-modified T-cell receptor therapy targeting WT1-overexpressing cells, with potential in the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia and haematological disorders such as myelodysplastic syndrome. It involves modification by gene therapy of the patient’s T cells, so that they recognise and destroy WT1-expressing cells when infused back into the body. The clinical trials are expected to enrol their first subjects in 2015. Manufacture is being undertaken at the world-leading UCL Institute of Child Health/Great Ormond Street Hospital cell therapy production unit led by Professor Adrian Thrasher and Dr Waseem Qasim.

Keith Thompson, CEO of the Cell Therapy Catapult, said, ‘We are very excited to be driving the advance of this important immune therapy with the potential to bring significant benefit to patients. The collaboration and formation of the new company is a great example of the way in which the Cell Therapy Catapult can catalyse the progress of innovative cell therapies towards commercialisation, helping create a vibrant cell therapy industry in the UK.’

Dr Emma Morris, UCL clinical academic, Chief Investigator & co-inventor, said, ‘This partnership with the Cell Therapy Catapult and others will help us deliver this promising new therapy to patients in the UK, more quickly.’

Tony Hickson, Managing Director, Technology Transfer at Imperial Innovations, said, ‘We are delighted to be working with UCLB and the Cell Therapy Catapult to support the development of this innovative cell therapy and look forward to seeing it progress in the clinic.’

Dr Anne Lane, Executive Director of UCLB, commented ‘We are delighted to be working with Imperial Innovations and Cell Therapy Catapult on this ground-breaking treatment for cancer, accelerating its development through clinical trials towards patient benefit. Professor Hans Stauss devised this technology at Imperial College and it was further developed at UCL in collaboration with Dr Morris through funding from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.’

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said, ‘Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research has funded this highly promising cell-based immune therapy from its development in the laboratory to the transition into clinical trials. The Cell Therapy Catapult’s investment to accelerate this trial is great news for patients with these hard-to-treat blood cancers, who often do not respond to traditional drugs like chemotherapy.’