Nkarta and CRISPR Therapeutics Join Forces to Develop Natural Killer Cell Cancer Treatments

Cancer Cells

Biopharmaceutical company CRISPR Therapeutics has entered into a strategic research, development and commercialization partnership with cancer-focused Nkarta. The new collaboration will be geared toward advancing CRISPR/Cas9 gene-edited cell therapies for certain cancers.

In a statement on the collaboration, the companies state “their complementary cell therapy engineering and manufacturing capabilities” will join forces to advance “the development of a novel NK+T product candidate harnessing the synergies of the adaptive and innate immune systems.” Financial details of the agreement were not publicly disclosed.

According to terms of the agreement, both CRISPR Therapeutics and Nkarta plan to jointly develop and commercialize up to two CAR NK cell product candidates. One candidate will target the CD70 tumor antigen, while no specific target has been set for the additional product. Nkarta has obtained a license to CRISPR gene-editing technology under the agreement. This license will allow Nkarta to edit up to five gene targets using “an unlimited number” of the company’s own NK cell therapy products.

Additionally, the two companies will share equally the research and development costs as well as global profits related to the products born from the collaboration. While Nkarta will retain global rights to a product candidate using a CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene editing target but not developed through the collaboration, Nkarta will provide CRISPR Therapeutics milestone payments as well as royalties on all net sales of the non-collaboration product.

There is a three-year exclusivity on the new agreement, according to the announcement of the collaboration. Overall, the exclusivity agreement covers the research, development as well as commercialization of allogeneic, gene-edited, and donor-derived NK cells and NK+T cells. “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,” according to a statement made by CRISPR Therapeutics’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Samarth Kulkarni, Ph.D.

“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,” said Nkarta’s CEO, Paul J. Hastings, in a statement. Hastings added that the partnership will enable the company to harness CRISPR’s deep knowledge of CD70 biology as well as experience in the clinical development of allogeneic T cell candidates, which may ultimately “deliver innovative treatments to patients that much faster.”

CRISPR Therapeutics has inked previous similar deals over the past few years, with the most recent agreement being an updated collaboration with Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The pharma company agreed to provide an upfront payment of $900 million to CRISPR on the expanded deal, all in an effort to rival competition with its development of CTX001, an autologous, ex vivo CRISPR-CAS9 gene-edited treatment. Vertex is responsible for approximately 60% of the costs associated with the development, manufacturing and commercialization of the therapy.

In addition to the $900 million upfront payment, Vertex also agreed to provide another $200 million following the first regulatory approval for CTX001.

Nkarta has also been showing accelerated financial growth in the past few months. Just last year, the company jumped on an upsized $252 million initial public offering (IPO). This represented one of the biggest IPOs in the life Sciences of the year 2020. A year before, Nkarta raised $114 million in a series B financing round. In addition, Nkarta dosed its first patient last year in a Phase I trial of NKX101, the company’s leading first-in-class investigational NK cell cancer immunotherapy candidate for blood cancers.

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