AbbVie, Calibr Collaborate to Develop Next-Generation CAR-T Therapies for Solid Tumors


AbbVie is taking another shot at solid tumor treatments through a collaboration with LaJolla, Calif.-based Calibr, a nonprofit drug discovery division of Scripps Research to develop next-generation T-Cell therapies that are aimed at targeting solid tumors.

The collaboration will broaden AbbVie’s precision medicine technology as it continues to develop various oncological treatments like CAR-T programs. The move will certainly be a challenge, as to date, CAR-Ts have only really been successful in treating hematological cancers. The first two CAR-T programs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are for hematological cancers. AbbVie noted in its announcement that “CAR-T therapies in development for solid tumors have demonstrated limitations due to rapid activation and expansion of CAR-T cells that can lead to serious adverse events.” The Calibr program, which is led by Travis Young, is designed to address those safety and efficacy concerns through a proprietary modular "switchable" CAR-T cell that uses antibody-based switch molecules to control the activation and antigen specificity of CAR-T cells, AbbVie said. That technology may enable the development of CAR-T-based treatments that can be used in both solid and hematological cancers.

With the hope of a potential oncological homerun, AbbVie has struck a deal to gain exclusive rights to the experimental CAR-T program at Calibr for four years. AbbVie also has an option to acquire an exclusive license to Calibr's switchable CAR-T platform and programs within the first four years of the collaboration. The companies will share responsibility for preclinical development. Additionally, AbbVie has the option to develop additional cell therapies toward AbbVie-nominated targets and license existing Calibr cell therapy programs under development for hematological and solid cancers, including Calibr's lead program. Calibr plans to enter this lead candidate into clinical studies for lymphoma in 2019.

The Illinois-based company will pay Calibr an undisclosed upfront license fee for the program. AbbVie will be responsible for clinical development and commercialization and Calibr will be eligible to receive success-based milestone payments and royalties.

Peter Schultz, chief executive officer of Calibr and Scripps Research, said the company was excited about working with AbbVie to expand CAR-T development for a broader range of cancers.

Mohit Trikha, head of AbbVie’s early oncology development programs, pointed to the team that Calibr has assembled to develop its cell therapy programs. Trikha said the proprietary program has the potential to “take us to the next frontier” in oncology treatment.

“The combination of AbbVie's oncology discovery and early development expertise and Calibr's novel switchable CAR-T therapy platform aims to advance the current standard of care, with the potential rapidly advancing new treatment options for patients,” Trikha said in a statement.

AbbVie is hoping that this collaboration with Calibr will certainly be more successful than its attempt to take on lung cancer with Rovalpituzumab Tesirine (Rova-T), an antibody-drug conjugate being developed to target relapsed/refractory (R/R) small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Earlier this year the company revealed disappointing mid-stage results.

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