bluebird bio will use Gritstone Oncology’s artificial intelligence (AI) platform to research, develop, and commercialize T-cell receptor (TCR) directed cell therapies for cancer, under a collaboration that could generate more than $30 million for Gritstone, the companies said today.

Gritstone will use its EDGE™ (Epitope Discovery in cancer GEnomes) tumor-specific neoantigen (TSNA) identification platform to enable patient selection for clinical development of the cancer cell therapies. EDGE uses machine learning to enable users to analyze specific tumor types to identify tumor-specific targets—and natural TCRs directed to those targets—for use in bluebird bio’s established cell therapy platforms, the companies said.

EDGE is designed to allow researchers to predict, from a routine tumor biopsy, the TSNA presented on a patient’s tumor cells; then use patients’ TSNA to develop and manufacture potent TCR immunotherapies, according to Gritstone.

Cell therapies for cancer have been a growing focus for both companies. Last month, Gritstone partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) on a clinical research collaboration to assess combinations of Gritstone’s lead candidate, the personalized neoantigen immunotherapy GRANITE-001, with BMS’ programmed death-1 (PD-1) immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo® (nivolumab), and with Opdivo plus BMS’ human cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4)-blocking checkpoint inhibitor Yervoy® (ipilimumab) in advanced solid tumors.

Earlier this month, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals agreed to invest $100 million in bluebird bio under a five-year collaboration designed to develop and commercialize new immune cell therapies for cancer.

And in March, bluebird and Celgene agreed to co-develop and co-promote one of bluebird’s lead oncology programs, bb2121, an anti-B-cell maturation antigen chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) therapy indicated for relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma, in the U.S.

10 Tumor-Specific Targets

“As we expand our immuno-oncology focus and portfolio, this collaboration with Gritstone Oncology is highly complementary to our goal of rapidly advancing novel cellular therapies with the potential to transform the lives of people with cancer, particularly in solid tumor indications,” bluebird CSO Philip Gregory, D.Phil., said in a statement.

“By combining our expertise in gene and cell therapy with Gritstone Oncology’s unique target identification and TCR technology, we hope to bring the power of cell therapy to a broader set of newly-validated targets, enabling us to treat previously unaddressable patient populations,” Dr. Gregory added.

Gritstone Oncology has agreed to provide bluebird with ten tumor-specific targets across several tumor types and, in some cases, TCRs directed to those targets to bluebird bio.

In return, bluebird has agreed to pay Gritstone $20 million upfront, and make a $10 million Series C preferred equity investment in Gristone. Bluebird also agreed to pay Gritstone unspecified “significant” payments tied to achieving development, regulatory, and commercial milestones on any therapies; as well as tiered royalties on certain approved therapies.

The collaboration with bluebird bio comes nearly a year since Gritstone completed $92.7 million in Series B preferred-stock financing, with the goal of advancing its tumor antigen identification platform and pipeline of personalized cancer immunotherapies.

“We believe that our artificial intelligence-based approach to identifying tumor-specific targets and corresponding, naturally occurring TCRs, combined with bluebird bio’s expertise in gene and cell therapy, will allow us to develop cellular immunotherapies against differentiated oncology targets,” added Gritstone President and CEO Andrew Allen, M.D., Ph.D.