Kite Pharma has acquired privately held T-Cell Factory (TCF) for €21 million ($21 million) upfront, and renamed it Kite Pharma EU, in a deal designed to establish a European presence for the buyer and strengthen its T Cell Receptor (TCR) gene therapy product platform.

TCF has focused on discovery and development of tumor-specific TCRs for broad use in cancer treatment based on its TCR-GENErator™ platform. TCRs allow targeting of tumor antigens found inside cancer cells, as well as surface antigens.

Kite agreed to make the upfront payment, of which €3.8M (about $4 million) will be paid in Kite stock—as well as an undisclosed sum in payments tied to achieving clinical, regulatory, and sales milestones relating to TCR-based product candidates.

By acquiring TCF, Kite said, it has obtained license agreements with IBA GmbH, Sanquin Blood Supply Foundation, and the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) that include rights to new TCR-related intellectual property in the TCR space developed by a co-founder of TCF, professor Ton N. M. Schumacher, Ph.D., deputy director of the NKI.

Dr. Schumacher will become CSO of Kite Pharma EU, while maintaining his position at NKI.

“NKI's goal is to become the leader in T cell gene therapy in Europe, and we are expanding our clinical and manufacturing capacities.  We are excited about partnering with Kite and potential future R&D collaborations with the company,” professor René Medema, director of NKI, said in a statement.

Dr. Schumacher co-founded TCF with professor Dirk H. Busch, M.D., director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Hygiene (MIH) at Technische Universität München (TUM) School of Medicine; Lothar Germeroth, Ph.D., former TCF senior advisor, CEO of IBA GmbH and COO of Stage Cell Therapeutics; Carsten Linnemann, Ph.D., senior scientist with Kite Pharma EU; and Georg Dössinger, Ph.D., a scientist at MIH.

Kite also said the acquisition provides access to European clinical manufacturing facilities, launching a base for Kite to build its global presence and initiate clinical programs in the EU.

Kite has developed the engineered Autologous cell therapy (eACT™), a platform technology encompassing T cells manufactured ex vivo, that are genetically re-directed against cancerous cells. TCR is one category of eACT; the other consists of Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cells genetically re-directed against cancerous cells through receptors comprising a target recognition domain linked to T cell activating domains.

In January, Kite launched a partnership with Amgen to develop and commercialize CAR T cell immunotherapies, in a deal that could generate a combined billion-plus dollars for both companies.

Kite's pipeline includes clinical-stage programs advancing multiple TCR-based product candidates: NY-ESO-1 against various tumors; HPV-16 E6 antigens against cervical and head and neck cancers, and MAGE antigens against various tumors.

“The acquisition of TCF and its novel discovery and development platform provides Kite with a strong position in TCR gene therapy for cancer,” Arie Belldegrun, M.D., FACS, Kite's president and CEO, said in a statement. “In addition, with our strategic plans for expanding clinical operations to ex-US sites, Kite's relationship with NKI, an internationally renowned research and clinical institution, provides an important operational platform and potential access to investigators, clinical sites and manufacturing facilities in Amsterdam.”

Added David Chang, M.D., Ph.D., Kite Pharma's evp, research and development and CMO: “In addition to expanding our capabilities in TCR, this acquisition is an important first step in our goal of global clinical expansion outside the US, applying our leadership and in-house clinical expertise in both CAR and TCR therapies.”

Kite’s acquisition of TCF follows the announcement earlier this month of Kite's expanded Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop new TCR candidates, including against tumor neo-antigens, truly tumor-specific antigens generated as tumors accumulate genetic mutations.

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