Astella Pharma’s subsidiary Agensys has licensed its Prostate Stem Cell Antigen (PSCA) technology to Bellicum Pharmaceuticals for cell and gene therapies targeting cancer, the companies said today. The value of the licensing deal was not disclosed.

The agreement grants Bellicum rights to develop and commercialize adoptive cell therapies—including CAR T cells—for tumors expressing PSCA, an antigen expressed in prostate, pancreatic, bladder, esophagus, and gastric cancers.

Bellicum is developing BPX-601, a GoCAR-T™ product candidate targeting PSCA, in which an MC (MyD88/CD40) molecular switch is designed to enable pharmacologic control over the activation, proliferation, and persistence of the GoCAR-T cells in a patient.

According to Bellicum, BPX-601 has shown strong antitumor activity in preclinical studies, including positive proof-of-principle data obtained in an animal pancreatic tumor model.

“PSCA is an attractive target for our CAR T cell technology and the license agreement allows Bellicum to advance BPX-601 into a number of cancers where there is a significant unmet medical need,” Bellicum president and CEO Thomas J. Farrell said in a statement.

“We look forward to the expected advancement of BPX-601 into clinical development in the first half of 2016 for the initial target indication of pancreatic cancer,” Farrell added.

Under the licensing agreement, Agensys will receive an upfront license fee, and potential payments tied to achieving clinical and sales milestones, as well as single-digit royalties on the sales of any products developed pursuant to the license.

Astellas or Agensys retains the option for commercializing BPX-601 or any other product targeting PSCA based on Bellicum’s CAR-T cell technology in Japan. If that option is exercised, Bellicum would receive an option fee from Astellas or Agensys, and could pay Agensys a lower amount for certain clinical and sales milestones.

Bellicum is also eligible for royalties from Astellas or Agensys based upon sales in Japan.

Added Kenji Yasukawa, Ph.D., Astellas’ chief strategy officer: “This collaboration is one piece of our strategy in cancer immunotherapy, where Astellas is actively engaged, and we will continue to make aggressive investments in the field of cancer immunotherapy including cancer cell therapies.”

Houston-based Bellicum focuses on discovering and developing cellular immunotherapies for cancers and orphan inherited blood disorders.

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