A new UCL spin-out company – Autolus – is being launched to develop and commercialise a new generation of engineered T-cell therapies for haematological and solid tumours, with the backing of £30m in investment from healthcare investment company Syncona.
The biopharmaceutical company is founded upon the work of Dr Martin Pule, an academic clinical haematologist and thought-leader in T-cell engineering based at UCL, and has been spun-out of UCL by UCL Business, the university’s technology transfer company.
Recent clinical trials of engineered T-cell treatments for haematological malignancies performed by various groups suggest that chimeric antigen receptor (“CAR”) T-cells have the potential to transform cancer therapy.
T-cells are part of our immune system which normally kill infected cells. T-cells can be taken from a person’s blood sample, grown in the laboratory and ‘re-programmed’ to recognise and kill cancer cells just as they would naturally attack an infection. This re-programming is achieved by introducing a gene for an artificial protein called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR for short. Early clinical trials in the US have shown that CAR T-cells could be highly effective in treating patients with leukaemias and lymphomas which have failed to respond to standard anti-cancer treatments.
The investment will help to fund clinical trials of this treatment in London. The project is supported by the Government’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and led by University College London (UCL) and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH).
Martin Pule, Chief Scientific Officer of Autolus and Senior Lecturer at the UCL Cancer Institute and NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre, commented:
“It is exciting to be involved in Autolus, where we have an opportunity to bring innovative new therapeutic approaches to patients who often have no alternative treatment path. The key will be to remain at the cutting-edge of T-cell engineering to create a new generation of programmed T-cells acting as autonomous agents to kill tumour cells. What we’ve seen so far in the CAR T-cell field is only the beginning.”
Commenting on the launch of the new company, Professor Stephen Caddick, Vice-Provost (Enterprise & London) at UCL, said:
"London is a research powerhouse - especially in biomedical research -and we need to work differently if we are to improve our ability to get discoveries out of lab and to patients as quickly as possible."
"The model underpinning Autolus' is an exemplar of how we can raise the game in UK life sciences. By bringing together world leading research, experienced investors and the health service we can together drive innovation faster for the benefit of patients and our economy. UCL - and our technology transfer company UCLB - are absolutely committed to achieving just that."
Life Sciences Minister George Freeman said:
“This investment highlights the fact that the UK is at the forefront of financing innovative biomedical treatments that have the potential to give real patient benefits. In the wider context, UK companies raised £734 million of capital in the first half of 2014, surpassing the £483 million raised in the whole of 2013. It is early days, but this significant £30 million commitment could revolutionise cancer treatments and is a huge boost for the NHS. This builds on the investment made through the National Institute for Health Research which positions the UK as a global leader in research.”
Christian Itin, Chairman of Autolus, said:
“A key element of Autolus’ strategy is to progress CAR T-cell products quickly into clinical trials, leveraging our strong partnership with UCL. The company has engaged a team of thought-leading academics in London as advisors, and will perform its Phase 1 clinical studies and manufacturing within the academic infrastructure of the city, including the integrated cancer clinical trials infrastructure at University College Hospital and the expert cell therapy manufacturing facility at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital.”
Cengiz Tarhan, Managing Director of UCLB, added:
“UCL is a world leader in the biomedical sciences, with an unremitting commitment to outstanding research and translation into healthcare benefits for patients. It is exciting to support these breakthrough treatments being taken forward in a commercial environment in a way that may benefit patients globally. The formation of Autolus represents the culmination of several years of research in the laboratories of Martin Pule and his collaborators drawing on funding from multiple government and charitable sources. UCLB are delighted to be able to partner with Syncona to launch Autolus.”