Roche strikes US$3 billion deal with Adaptimmune to develop cell therapies for cancer

SWITZERLAND – Roche has acquired rights to a group of off-the-shelf cancer cell therapy programs from Adaptimmune, agreeing to work with the biotech on five “shared cancer targets” as well as some additional personalized T cell therapies.

The Swiss drugmaker will pay Adaptimmune US$150 million now and could add another US$150 million over five years if the deal remains active that long.

The deal could be worth more than US$3 billion if various milestones are met, though that money isn’t guaranteed. Adaptimmune could also opt for royalties on sales or to split costs and profits for each project, according to the deal’s terms.

The alliance marks the most significant investment for Roche in cell therapy, a field of research the drug maker has been slower to embrace unlike like Novartis, Gilead and Bristol Myers Squibb.

Prior to this announcement, Roche had indicated interest through smaller deals with Tusk Therapeutics and SQZ Biotechnologies.

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 tumors, a tougher cell therapy target.

 Adaptimmune already has a long-running partnership in place with GlaxoSmithKline for its autologous work.

However, Roche has now 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 tumors, 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 US$285 million in cash and securities as of June 30, a sum that has declined by US$83 million through the first six months of 2021.

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