Life Technologies will exclusively license to Novartis its Dynabeads® CD3/CD28 CTS™ technology, designed to isolate, activate and expand therapeutic T cells to express chimeric antigen receptors for treating cancer—the first collaboration for the tools giant going beyond companion diagnostics—into development of a gene therapy that uses infusions of the patients’ own T cells genetically engineered to attack their tumors.

Life Tech—which is being acquired by Thermo Fisher for $13.6 billion, plus $2.2 billion in debt, in a deal announced April 15—signed a long-term supply and exclusive licensing agreement with Novartis, financial and other terms for which were undisclosed. The pharma giant gained rights to use Life Tech’s intellectual property exclusively toward chimeric antigen receptors for cancer treatment.

“The current agreement with Novartis represents a significant step in the growth of Life Technologies from a research tools provider to a leading medical device company,” Greg Lucier, Life Tech’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Taken with our previous announcements of companion diagnostic collaborations, the current agreement demonstrates how Life is uniquely positioned to facilitate drug development through alliances with pharma.”

Novartis aims to commercialize a personalized immunotherapy technology developed at the University of Pennsylvania, for which it acquired exclusive rights last year. The therapy consists of removing blood cells from cancer patients; isolating  and activating T cells; genetically modifying the T cells thereby programming those cells to recognize and attack cancer cells; expanding  the T cells; and, lastly, introducing those cells back into the body so the patient’s immune system can take over.

In two studies for which results were published in 2011, three patients experienced durable complete or partial remission of their cancers within three to four weeks of immunotherapy treatment. Earlier this year, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine described complete responses, one of them ongoing, in two children with leukemia.

“Dynabeads ® CD3/CD28 CTS™ have unique properties that are ideal for producing a robust immunotherapeutic,” Oystein Aamellem, Life Tech’s head of cellular medicine, said in the statement. “Not only do the beads assure that T cells are separated from any unwanted cells, it also triggers the T cells to reproduce in a natural and controlled manner, ensuring a therapeutically relevant population is transferred back into the patient.”

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