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Roche bets big on off-the-shelf cancer cell therapy with Adaptimmune deal

Adaptimmune, like companies such as Bluebird Bio and Cellectis, remains one of the more prominent independent developers of cancer cell therapies. Early pioneers Kite Therapeutics and Juno Therapeutics were snapped up by Gilead and Celgene, respectively, with the Juno portfolio now in the hands of Bristol Myers Squibb.

The treatments Kite and Juno developed and their acquirers now sell, however, are logistically complex. They, as well as another drug from Novartis, require a laborious multi-week production process. Side effects can also be severe, meaning patients have to stay in or near a specialized hospital after the engineered cells are reinfused back into the body.

Adaptimmune has been developing such “autologous” treatments, too. But unlike many of its peers, the biotech has focused on solid tumours, a tougher cell therapy target. Alongside that effort has been an emerging plan to develop off-the-shelf, or “allogeneic” therapies, that could bypass many of the problems autologous treatments face if they prove safe and effective in clinical testing.

Adaptimmune already has a long-running partnership in place with GlaxoSmithKline for its autologous work. But Roche has taken a significant interest in its off-the-shelf research, a notable investment from a company that, while known for its cancer business, had yet to make a large bet on cell therapy.

The deal calls for Adaptimmune to develop T cell-based treatments using its in-house technology, which reprograms donor stem cells that can mature into other types of cells. Roche will be responsible for engineering the receptors on those cells that can latch onto tumours, as well as helping out with development and commercialization.

The additional revenue will help Adaptimmune sustain operations through early 2024 as it attempts to push forward seven clinical programs. The company had $285 million in cash and securities as of June 30, a sum that had declined by $83 million through the first six months of 2021.