Two next-gen biotech pioneers in natural killer cell therapies and gene editing are coming together to battle cancer.
Under the new deal, financials of which were not disclosed, gene-editing specialist CRISPR Therapeutics and NK cell therapy startup Nkarta will work together to seek out CRISPR/Cas9 gene-edited cell therapies for cancer.
Under the agreement, the companies will both develop and sell two CAR NK cell candidates, one targeting the CD70 tumor antigen and the “other target to be determined,” according to a joint statement.
Nkarta also nabs a license to CRISPR gene editing tech, specifically to edit five gene targets in an “unlimited number” of its own NK cell therapy products. Both biotechs will equally share all R&D costs and profits under the collab products.
Specifics on costs, upfronts, biobucks or targets were not shared by the two companies.
This builds on deals CRISPR has already penned over the years, including most recently an updated pact with Vertex as the biotech continues, alongside its many rivals, to find a way to make the latent promise of gene editing work in the clinic and look ahead to potential first approvals in the future.
“By bringing together CRISPR Therapeutics’ and Nkarta’s highly complementary expertise and proprietary platforms we plan to accelerate the development of potentially groundbreaking genome engineered NK cell therapies,” said Samarth Kulkarni, Ph.D., CEO at CRISPR Tx. “This collaboration broadens the scope of our efforts in oncology cell therapy, and expands our efforts to discover and develop novel cancer therapies for patients.”
Nkarta has had a good run in recent months; last year, it got off a $252 million IPO, one of the biggest life science initial public offerings of 2020, coming off a hefty $114 million B round the year before.
Last year, the company dosed its first patient in the phase 1 trial of its leading asset, NKX101, a first-in-class investigational NK cell cancer immunotherapy engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) targeting NKG2D ligand in certain blood cancers. Nkarta believes using NK cells could clear the hurdles that have limited the success of CAR-T therapies in blood cancers.
“Uniting the best-in-class gene editing solution and allogeneic T cell therapy expertise of CRISPR with Nkarta’s best-in-class CAR NK cell therapy platform will be a major advantage to advancing the next wave of transformative cancer cell therapies,” added Paul Hastings, president and chief at Nkarta.
“With this partnership, Nkarta can systematically apply world-class gene editing across our entire pre-clinical pipeline going forward. CRISPR’s deep understanding of CD70 biology and experience in allogeneic T cell clinical development can accelerate the development of early-stage Nkarta programs, to deliver innovative treatments to patients that much faster.”