ElevateBio, a Cambridge-based biotechnology holding company, today announced it has established and launched HighPassBio, a company dedicated to advancing novel targeted T cell immunotherapies. The company’s lead product is an engineered T cell receptor (TCR) T cell therapy for HA-1 expressing tumors, which is designed to treat and potentially prevent relapse of leukemia following hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). The product and approach were developed by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
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“At ElevateBio we are committed to building therapeutics companies with the world’s leading innovators in cell and gene therapy to advance novel treatments that have strong potential to dramatically improve patient lives,” said David Hallal, Chairman and CEO of ElevateBio. “We look forward to leveraging our centralized industry-leading cell and gene therapy process development and manufacturing capabilities while working closely with Dr. Marie Bleakley and her team, to accelerate their impressive work through clinical development with the goal of serving patients who have no other treatment options. Additionally, we will explore this approach as a potential treatment for other diseases that are treated by stem cell transplants.”
HighPassBio’s scientific founder is Marie Bleakley, M.D., Ph.D., M.ClinEpi, pediatric oncologist and stem cell transplant physician at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and chair of the scientific advisory board (SAB) of HighPassBio. As the chair of HighPassBio’s SAB, Dr. Bleakley will continue working with ElevateBio to advance and accelerate this innovative program through clinical development toward patients.
A Phase 1 clinical trial has treated initial patients and is recruiting adult and pediatric patients who have relapsed with leukemia or related conditions following blood and marrow transplantation (also known as stem cell transplantation). More details on www.clinicaltrials.gov under the study ID number NCT03326921.
About TCR-Engineered T Cell Therapy
A key role of the immune system is to detect tumor antigens, engage T cells and eradicate the tumor. However, the immune response to tumor antigens varies and is often insufficient to prevent tumor growth and relapse. An approach known as adoptive T cell therapy, using T cell receptors, or TCRs, can overcome some of the obstacles to establishing an effective immune response to fight off the target tumor. TCRs are molecules found on surface of T cells that can recognize tumor antigens that are degraded to small protein fragments inside tumor cells. Unlike CAR T cells that recognize only surface antigens, TCRs can recognize small protein fragments derived from intracellular and surface antigens offering a more diverse way to attack tumors. These small protein fragments show up on the tumor cell surface with another protein called major histocompatibility complex (MHC), get recognized by the TCRs and consequently signal the body’s immune system to respond to fight off and kill the tumor cells.
Tumor-specific TCRs can be identified and then engineered into T cells that recognize and attack various types of cancers, representing a novel approach to treating and potentially preventing disease.
Adoptive T cell therapy can be applied to tackling relapse of leukemia post hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) by targeting the antigens expressed only by the patient and not by the stem cell transplant donor, known as minor histocompatibility antigens, or HA1. HA1 is expressed predominantly or exclusively on hematopoietic cells and leukemic cells. There is evidence that T cells specific for HA1 can induce a potent and selective antileukemic effect. HA1 TCR T cell therapy is a new investigational immunotherapy for the management of post transplantation leukemia relapse.
About Leukemia post HSCT Treatment and the Risk of Relapse
Leukemia, a cancer of the blood or bone marrow characterized by an abnormal proliferation of blood cells, is the tenth most common type of cancer in the U.S. with an estimated 60,140 new cases and 24,400 deaths in 2016. Leukemia arises from uncontrolled proliferation of a specific type of hematopoietic (blood) cell that is critical for a functional immune system. As a result, when patients are given very high doses of chemotherapy to eradicate leukemic cells most normal cells are killed as well, necessitating a transplant of hematopoietic stem cells from a donor to reconstitute the patient’s bone marrow and circulating hematopoietic cells. In some cases, the transplanted T cells from the donor can also recognize and eliminate the hematopoietic cells, including leukemia, from the recipient, thus preventing relapse.
While the majority of HSCT recipients are cured, 25-50 percent of HSCT recipients’ relapse, leukemia relapse remains the major cause of allogeneic HSCT failure, and the prognosis for patients with post-HCT relapse is poor. Relapse occurs following allogeneic HSCT in approximately one-third of patients with acute leukemia who undergo the procedure, and most patients subsequently die of their disease.
HighPassBio, an ElevateBio portfolio company, is working to advance a novel approach to treating hematological malignancies by leveraging T cell receptor (TCR)-engineered T cells, known as TCR T cells. The company’s lead program is designed to treat or potentially prevent relapse of leukemia in patients who have undergone hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). The technology was born out of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center by world renowned expert, Dr. Marie Bleakley.
ElevateBio, LLC, is a Cambridge-based cell and gene therapy holding company, established to create and operate a broad portfolio of cell and gene therapy companies with leading academic researchers, medical centers and entrepreneurs. ElevateBio builds single- and multi-product companies by providing scientific founders with fully integrated bench-to-bedside capabilities including world-class scientists, manufacturing facilities, drug developers and commercial expertise. ElevateBio BaseCamp, a company-owned Cell and Gene Therapy Center of Innovation, will serve as the R&D, process development and manufacturing hub across the entire ElevateBio portfolio while also supporting selected strategic partners.
ElevateBio’s lead investors are the UBS Oncology Impact Fund (OIF) managed by MPM Capital, as well as F2 Ventures. Investors also include EcoR1 Capital, Redmile Group, and Samsara BioCapital.