Pfizer and Cellectis will team up to develop Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell (CAR-T) cancer immunotherapies directed at select targets using the French biotech’s CAR-T platform technology. The collaboration—which could net Cellectis more than $2.885 billion—adds Pfizer to the list of biopharmas staking out a presence in oncology immunotherapy based on CAR-Ts.

Under terms of a global strategic collaboration agreement, Pfizer has exclusive rights to develop and commercialize CAR-T cancer therapies directed at a total of 15 targets of its choosing. For those targets, both companies agreed to work together on preclinical research, with Pfizer overseeing development and potential commercialization of any CAR-T therapies for the targets it selects.

Both companies also agreed to work together on preclinical research for four of 12 additional targets to be selected by Cellectis, with Pfizer having the right of first refusal to the four. Cellectis will oversee clinical development and commercialization of CAR-T therapeutics for the Cellectis-selected targets, and will also work independently on eight additional targets. To work more closely with Pfizer researchers, Cellectis said it expects to open a site in the U.S.

Cellectis’ platform uses engineered T-cells from a single donor for use in multiple patients, with the goal of developing CAR-T therapies that are distinct from other autologous approaches for engineering T-cells to fight tumor cells.

Cellectis says these allogeneic CAR-Ts are “off-the-shelf” products with the potential to be standardized, with consistent pharmaceutical release criteria, so that each potential future patient could be treated immediately through a single dose of a standard product with consistent quality. Allogenic products thus can be shipped in advance and be accessible to any cancer center in the world without the need to invest in a local CAR-T processing facility, Cellectis adds.

“We believe our CAR-T platform technology has the potential to offer a real advantage over other approaches to T-cell receptor engineering and this collaboration with Pfizer is an important step towards realizing the full potential of this technology in harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer,” Andre Choulika, PhD, Cellectis’ chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

Pfizer agreed to pay Cellectis $80 million upfront, plus research costs connected with Pfizer-selected targets and the four Cellectis-selected targets. Cellectis could also receive from Pfizer up to $185 million in payments per Pfizer product, tied to development, regulatory and commercial milestones, plus tiered royalties on net sales of any products that Pfizer commercializes.

Also, Pfizer agreed to take a 10% stake in Cellectis by Pfizer by buying newly issued shares at €9.25 ($12.55) per share, pending Cellectis shareholder approval. According to the companies, Cellectis shareholders representing 52.8% of voting rights have already voted in favor of the issuance.

Companies embracing CAR-T cancer immunotherapies include Novartis, which has licensed technology from the University of Pennsylvania, and contributed $20 million toward a Center for Advanced Cellular Therapies at UPenn, with joint R&D focused on discovery, development and manufacturing of adoptive T cell immunotherapies.

Other companies working on CAR-T therapies include a collaboration between Celgene and bluebird bio that could net the latter more than $225 million; and Juno Therapeutics, which by April had raised $176 million from investors that include founder Jeff Bezos since its launch late last year. The FDA briefly placed, but has since lifted, a clinical hold on Juno following the deaths of two patients attributed to cytokine release syndrome.

Previous articleThe Promise and Challenge of Engineering Biology in the United States
Next articleZiarco Granted $2.9M from Technology Strategy Board