CaspaCIDe DLI is being tested in cancer patients undergoing stem cell transplants.

Bellicum Pharmaceuticals won a $5.7 million company commercialization award from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The money will fund personnel hiring, manufacturing, and clinical testing of CaspaCIDe™ in graft versus host disease (GvHD).

Bellicum plans to create 30 new jobs over the next two years, growing its workforce to 40. Additionally, the award will support the execution of a Phase I/II randomized, double-blind trial of CaspaCIDe DLI in patients with high-risk hematologic malignancies are undergoning hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

CaspaCIDe DLI is a donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI) in which donor T cells contain the CaspaCIDe safety switch. It is delivered to T cells using a retrovirus. The retroviral LTR promoter differentially drives increased expression of the CaspaCIDe protein in activated T cells, which are more likely to be those responsible for GvHD, ensuring their preferential, selective elimination, Bellicum explains.

CaspaCIDe compounds being developed by the firm contain the CID signaling domain for caspase 9, a caspase that triggers apoptosis when activated. This leads to the elimination of cells expressing the CaspaCIDe protein, Bellicum says. Transplant cells are transduced with a CaspCIDe gene after they are harvested from the donor and before they are infused into the patient.

Then, if any of the transplanted cells become harmful, or after the cells have served their intended therapeutic purpose, the physician can eliminate them by administering AP1903,  the CID master key. In addition to a single CID binding domain and caspase 9 signaling domain, the CaspaCIDe protein includes a ΔCD19 marker used to sort and isolate cells that have had CaspaCIDe successfully inserted and to detect and monitor these cells after administration.

Bellicum was the only company awarded funding among 16 Texas-based winners receiving a total $116 million in commercialization funds for 22 projects; the other winners were research institutes, according to CPRIT.

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