What You Need to Know About NantCell
December 1, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
NantCell is a wholly-owned subsidiary of NantWorks, LLC. NantWorks was founded by Patrick Soon-Shiong, inventor of the first human nanoparticle chemotherapeutic agent, Abraxane.
NantWorks is the umbrella company for a number of companies, including NantHealth, NantMobile, NantMedia, NantOmics, NantBioscience, NantCell, NantPharma, NantCapital and NantCloud. NantWorks focuses on developing a range of technologies that will accelerate innovation, assist new research, and improvement healthcare treatments.
NantCell is an immune-oncology company that is working to discover innovative antibody, T cell and NK cell-based treatments by developing molecular-targeted therapeutics based on the patient’s tumor proteome profile, separate from the cancer’s anatomical type. The company hopes to develop a pipeline of human antibodies and protein inhibitors that drive tumor growth. It also hopes to identify Chimeric Receptor Antigen platforms in both T and NK cells.
The particular focus is to assist in clinical trials. The company has said, “its missions is to make obsolete the standard method of clinical trial design of ‘trial and error’ and replace it with a level of quantitative predictability based on both the genomic and proteomic profile performed a priori. The company will tap into comprehensive ‘omic’ analytic tools and ‘big data’ generated from supercomputing to develop molecularly designed drugs in this era of genomics and proteomics and identify patients and their tumor signature at the most granular cellular, DNA and protein levels.”
Patrick Soon-Shiong—founder and chief executive officer. Soon-Shiong is the creator of Abraxane and the founder of the nab technology platform used to develop humanized antibodies and inhibitors of tumor proteins. An entrepreneur, former surgeon and professor at University of California at Los Angeles, Soon-Shiong founded APP Pharmaceuticals in 1997, which he sold to Fresenius SE for $3.7 billion in July 2008. He then founded Abraxis BioScience, manufacturer of Abraxane, the drug he invented. Abraxane (paclitaxel) is an injectable formula used to treat breast cancer, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer, as well as a variety of other cancer types. In 2010, Soon-Shiong sold Abraxis to Celgene in a deal valued at over $3 billion.
He has since gone on to form a number of companies under the NantWorks umbrella. NantWorks has a stated mission “to converge ultra-low power semiconductor technology, supercomputing, high performance, secured advanced networks and augmented intelligence to transform how we work, play, and live.”
Charles Kim—NantCell’s general counsel.
Soon-Shiong is notoriously close-mouthed about the companies he runs. What is known about NantCell is that in September it raised $100 million in equity funding from unnamed investors. This followed a $75 million round in June, quite possibly from the same undisclosed investor. It is possible, although completely unconfirmed, that the investor is Soon-Shiong.
In January, the company acquired AMG 479 (ganitumab) from Amgen . AMG 479 is a fully human monoclonal antibody that targets Type 1 insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF-1R), a potential target for cancer therapy. The drug was previously investigated by Amgen for pancreatic testing, but was halted in 2012 after early results showed little. In a statement at the time of the acquisition, Soon-Shiong said, “It is our belief that the future of cancer care will involve combination therapy with low dose, metronomic use of multiple chemotherapeutic agents, but combined also with immuno-oncology molecules, or with engineered killer cells targeted at the proteomic profile of the specific tumor, regardless of the anatomical type.”
It’s generally hard to get a grip on exactly what NantCell and Soon-Shiong is doing, although it appears to fit into the hot area of immuno-oncology. The company also appears to be focused on utilizing big data and proteomics to identify broad cancer markers. Competitors include Juno Therapeutics and CytomX Therapeutics. Bristol-Myers Squibb is currently marketing Opdivo, a checkpoint inhibitor of PD-1, and Merck markets Keytruda, also a checkpoint inhibitor of PD-1. Bristol-Myers Squibb also offers Yervoy, a checkpoint inhibitor of CTLA-4.
Dollars and Deals
When NantCell launched in January 2015, it simultaneously announced it had entered into an agreement with Amgen (AMGN) for AMG 479 (ganitumab), which was previously in Phase III development. Under that deal, NantCell acquired the exclusive rights to develop and commercialize the compound worldwide, excluding Japan. AMG 479 is a fully human monoclonal antibody that targets Type 1 IGF-1R, a potential target for cancer therapy.
In March 2015, the company traded about $110 million in cash and equity for the rights to unspecified immunotherapies from Sorrento Therapeutics. Although details are far and few between, there was apparently $90 million upfront and the deal could hit $1.3 billion if regulatory and sales milestones are met. Part of the deal involved the acquisition of an Abraxane-like chemotherapy drug, Igdrasol. Sorrento originally had plans to file the drug with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by 2016. Developed by South Korea-based Samyang Biopharmaceuticals for metastatic breast cancer, the drug has been studied in Phase III trials in the U.S. for pancreatic, ovarian and bladder cancers.
In June 2015, NantCell announced that VBC Holdings, LLC, one of the NantWorks subsidiaries, acquired Italian company VivaBioCell SpA. “With the acquisition of VivaBioCell, we have added novel and complementary cell culture capabilities and extended our geographic footprint,” Soon-Shiong said in a statement. “For nearly a decade, the team at VivaBioCell has been focused on discovering and developing therapies that utilize stem cell and tissue engineering and cell culture capabilities, and enables next generation low cost manufacturing systems in the era of cell-based immunotherapy.”
What to Look For
Not much is known about the company’s approach, but if Soon-Shiong’s history and finances are any indication, the company has deep pockets and an innovative approach with at least two potential products to investigate that have been pretty thoroughly tested for safety.
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