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Athenex Garners Rights to NCI-Discovered TCRs for Cell Therapies Development in Solid Tumors

NEW YORK – Athenex said on Tuesday that it has inked a licensing deal with the National Cancer Institute to expand its portfolio of engineered cell therapies for solid cancers.

Specifically, Buffalo-based Athenex has in-licensed rights to develop both allogeneic natural killer (NK) T-cell and autologous T-cell therapies engineered to express specific T-cell receptors (TCRs). These TCRs, discovered in Steven Rosenberg's lab at the NCI, recognize unique antigens on various solid cancers harboring p53, KRAS, and EGFR mutations.

Under the terms of the agreement, Athenex has global rights to develop, manufacture, and commercialize cell therapies that express these TCRs, including allogeneic NK T-cell products, engineered using viral and non-viral means, and autologous T-cell products, developed using retrovirus and lentivirus-mediated gene transfer.

Athenex plans to engineer the TCRs into its existing NK T-cell therapy platform to create an off-the-shelf cell therapy for solid tumors. The deal builds on the firm's recent acquisition of Kuur Therapeutics, which brought CAR-NK T-cell therapies into Athenex's pipeline in May.

"By expressing these TCRs in our NK T-cell platform, we are able to potentially expand beyond hematologic malignancies into solid tumors," Daniel Lang, Athenex's president of cell therapy and VP of corporate development and communication, said in a statement. According to Lang, this would expand the firm's potential market for its cell therapies by more than 100,000 US patients each year.