NEW YORK – Xi'an, China-based Yufan Biotechnologies and Pittsburgh-based Abound Bio announced on Wednesday that they had entered a three-year partnership to jointly develop CAR T-cell therapies directed at 10 different cancer targets.
The companies plan to improve the efficacy of CAR T-cell therapy by using CRISPR gene editing to disrupt the expression of endogenous HPK1, a gene that plays a role in T-cell exhaustion through NFkB-Blimp1 activation, in effect limiting the ability of CAR T cells to destroy cancer cells. Xuebin Liao, one of Yufan's cofounders, recently led research that demonstrated the potential for the HPK1-inhibiting approach to improve CAR T-cell therapy.
The partnership will leverage Abound Bio's expertise in identifying antibodies as cancer targets and direct Yufan's investigational HPK1-inhibited CAR T-cell platform against these targets. The two companies will share inventorship and development rights for the new technologies that emerge from the collaboration.
Currently, the safety and maximum tolerated dose of the HPK1-inhibited CAR T-cell approach is being evaluated in a Phase I trial as a treatment for relapsed or refractory CD19-positive leukemia or lymphoma. An estimated 40 patients enrolled in the trial — 20 with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and 20 with B-cell lymphoma — will receive IV injections of autologous T cells that have been engineered to target CD19 and edited with CRISPR to disrupt the expression of endogenous HPK1.