Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) inked a broad R&D collaboration focused on developing targeted chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) immunotherapies against cancer. The deal gives Novartis exclusive rights to UPenn’s CART-19, an investigational CAR undergoing initial clinical testing, which the partners expect to start in a Phase II trial during the latter quarter of this year.

Novartis will also have exclusive worldwide rights to CARs developed through the collaboration for all indications. The firm will in return make an up-front payment and provide research funding and milestone payments.

As part of their partnership Novartis and UPenn will in addition construct a new research facility at the UPenn campus site in Philadelphia. The Center for Advanced Cellular Therapies (CACT) will focus on the development of adoptive T-cell immunotherapies through collaborative research.

CAR immunotherapy involves the ex vivo modification of patients’ own T cells so that once the cells are reintroduced into the patient they will specifically recognize, bind to, and destroy target cancer cells. CART-19 targets CD19 associated with a range of B-cell malignancies. In an initial UPenn-conducted trial, CART-19 therapy demonstrated significant antileukemic effects in three advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who had previously received multiple courses of chemo- and biologics therapy.

Two of the patients remained in complete remission for more than a year into the trial, and the third remained in partial remission for over seven months. Treated patients were given infusions of intravenous immune globin to correct hypogammaglobulinemia, an expected CART-19-related side effect, and were also treated for symptoms of tumor lysis syndrome associated with tumor breakdown.

“UPenn’s intellectual resources combined with a pharmaceutical industry leader like Novartis offers a powerful symbiotic relationship in our mutual goal of finding more effective treatments for cancer,” comments J. Larry Jameson, M.D., dean of the Perelman School of Medicine at UPenn. “This new alliance will provide the support for the essential clincial trials with engineered T cells, which may open doors for use of this promising treatment option for cancer patients who have reached the end of currently available treatments.”

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