This article was originally published in Start Up
Adaptimmune has recently spun out of MediGene AG to carry forward T cell receptor engineering with HIV as its initial target. The company's ex vivo approach sees a patients' own T cells harvested, those cells' receptors genetically enhanced for increased potency against certain infections or tumors in the manner of monoclonal antibody selection, and re-infused into the patient.
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Immunotherapy has seen its share of failures in recent months, but T-cell oriented therapies are by no means dead in the water and therapeutic cancer vaccines continue to attract funding. This month START-UP profiles three companies that nevertheless have been able to attract funding . They aim to avoid the difficulties that have sunk other efforts to commercialize immunotherapies. The firms are transplanting T cells along with same-donor bone marrow to fight infection, delivering powerful cytokines and other therapeutic payloads via T-cell receptor targeting, and genetically enhancing the ability of T-cell receptors to recognize antigens before growing those T cells in culture and re-infusing them into a patient's body.
Altor BioSciences aims to exploit the intrinsic selectivity of T-cell receptors (TCRs) by pairing soluble receptors with therapeutic payloads. These TCR/drug combos are smaller than antibodies and could theoretically bind to targets within cells, not just on the cell surface, a main selling point of the firm's so-called STAR technology. At first Altor plans to enhance the safety and efficacy of existing marketed drugs by pairing them with monoclonal antibody-like TCRs for improved targeting.
Cell Medica is pursuing what could be considered a relatively low-tech, low-risk approach to T-cell immunotherapy. The two-year-old spin-out of Imperial Innovations Group will treat immunosuppressed bone marrow donation recipients with T cells isolated from their bone marrow donors. The company's first project is in isolating cytomegalovirus-specific T cells from donors for infusion into patients who are at particular risk of CMV infection following bone marrow transplant.