bluebird bio, Celgene, and adoptive immunotherapy for cancer

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The Biopharmconsortium Blog includes several articles that are–in whole or in part–about adoptive T-cell immunotherapy [or adoptive cell transfer (ACT)] for cancer. In particular, we have produced two blog articles that discuss the Novartis/University of Pennsylvania (Penn) collaboration, which is aimed at finally commercializing adoptive immunotherapy for cancer.

The Novartis/Penn collaboration focuses on a particular technology for ACT, known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technology. In this technology, autologous T cells isolated from patient blood are engineered with retroviral vectors carrying a gene for a tumor antigen-specific CAR. The CAR enables the engineered cells to recognize specific surface proteins on tumor cells, and to go on to kill the cells.

Now we find out that at least one more company–one a lot closer to home (at least for us folks in Greater Boston)–is involved in a collaboration to develop and commercialize CAR technology for ACT. This company is bluebird bio (Cambridge, MA). As of June 24, 2012, bluebird successfully completed its initial public offering.

On March 21, 2013, bluebird announced in a press release that it had entered into a multi-year strategic collaboration with Celgene (Summit, NJ) to discover new disease-modifying gene therapies for cancer. The collaboration is to focus on applying bluebird’s gene therapy technology to the design and development of CAR T cells.

According to the news release, the bluebird/Celgene collaboration may lead to the development and commercialization of multiple CAR T-cell products. Celgene has an option to license products that result from the collaboration after the completion of a Phase 1 clinical trial for each product. bluebird bio will be responsible for R&D through Phase 1 clinical trials, and Celgene will be responsible for clinical studies beyond Phase 1 for any product that it licenses, as well as commercialization of any such product.

As also announced in the March 21, 2013 press release, Celgene has entered into a separate strategic collaboration that focuses on CAR T-cell technology with the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and The Methodist Hospital (Houston, TX). The work on CAR T-cell technology in Houston is led by Malcolm Brenner, M.D., Ph.D. (Director, Center for Cell and Gene Therapy Baylor College of Medicine). Dr. Brenner and his colleagues, for example, showed that T cells expressing a CAR specific for the GD2 tumor antigen on neuroblastoma cells produced tumor responses in over half of 19 neuroblastoma patients with refractory or active disease. Three of 11 patients with active disease achieved complete remission.

According to the March 21, 2013 news release, bluebird bio, Celgene and Dr. Brenner’s team will work collaboratively to advance and develop existing and new CAR T-cell products and programs.

Our October 2012 discussion of bluebird bio and adoptive cell transfer in the Biopharmconsortium Blog

On  October 11, 2012, we published an article on this blog entitled “Is Gene Therapy Emerging From Technological Prematurity?” This article included a section on bluebird bio, which represented the very first time we mentioned bluebird on this blog.

In this section–over 5 months before bluebird announced its agreement with Celgene–we discussed the relationship between bluebird’s technology and ACT:

bluebird bio’s platform..represents both a gene therapy technology and an adoptive cellular transfer (ACT) technology. We have discussed ACT technologies (in this case, for immunotherapy for cancer) in a previous article on this blog.  Since some of these technologies involve genetically-engineered autologous T cells, they may also be thought of as representing both ACT and a kind of gene therapy.

We are happy to learn that bluebird also realized (independent from us) the potential utility of their “gene therapy” technology for adoptive immunotherapy/ACT for cancer. We are also happy that bluebird entered into an agreement with Celgene to develop and commercialize such therapies, with the potential to give at least some cancer patients the durable complete responses that they yearn for.

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