New oncology company launched in UK

Autolus Ltd, an oncology spin-out from University College (UCL) London, has raised £30 million in a Series A financing from Syncona LLP in order to develop a new generation of engineered T cell therapies. The funding, which is significant for a start-up, reflects the expectations of the founders that the new T cell technology will revolutionise the treatment of cancer. Besides Syncona, the other founder is UCL Business Plc, the technology transfer arm of UCL.

Go to the profile of Victoria English
Jan 22, 2015
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Autolus Ltd, an oncology spin-out from University College (UCL) London, has raised £30 million in a Series A financing from Syncona LLP in order to develop a new generation of engineered T cell therapies. The funding, which is significant for a start-up, reflects the expectations of the founders that the new T cell technology will revolutionise the treatment of cancer. Besides Syncona, the other founder is UCL Business Plc, the technology transfer arm of UCL.

The launch was announced on 22 January.

Syncona, an evergreen investment company supported by the Wellcome Trust, is wholly responsible for the initial financing. In an interview on 22 January, Edward Hodgkin, a partner with Syncona and chief executive of the new company, said the fund wants to see Autolus become sustainable, which means getting a product onto the market. “We think there is an opportunity here to create a company of real scale that can become sustainable and that is really our goal,” he commented.

This will likely involve other investors in due course as the company grows. “This company has a strong pipeline and technology….we would love to bring in like-minded investors whether private or public,” he added.

Autolus is based on technology developed by Martin Pule, an academic clinical haematologist at the university’s cancer institute. Like Novartis and the University of Pennslyvania which are developing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell technology for haematological cancers, Autolus will be working in the field of autologous therapy. But its reach would potentially be broader as the company aspires to cover both haematological and solid cancers.

Mr Hodgkin said the UPenn technology “has shown stunning efficacy in B-cell malignancies.” But in order to expand the field, scientists need to address two challenges. “One is that we will have to very exquisitely target tumour cells in preference to healthy cells and that is not an easy thing to do with other tumour types. The second issue is the side-effect profile.

“We believe that in order for CAR T cells to become broadly accepted in cancer centres on different levels of expertise we are going to need to have ways of controlling the activity of the T cells so that you can modulate their activity after the dosing of the T cells, or in different ways allow you to overcome the very severe side effects,” he said.

While declining to discuss the Autolus technology in detail, Mr Hodgkin said these challenges are addressed in the intellectual property which has been licensed into Autolus. The IP covers proprietary targets, constructs and technologies, he commented.

In creating Autolus, the founders were able to recruit a veteran biopharma executive as chairman, Christian Itin. Mr Itin is the former chief executive of Micromet (now Amgen Inc), a developer of bispecific antibodies. Mr Itin led Micromet when that company developed blinatumomab, a bispecific antibody that targets the cell-surface proteins CD19 and CD3 simultaneously.

Amgen successfully brought blinatumomab through registration in the US in December. It is now approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of refractory B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – the agency’s first approval of a single-agent immunotherapy for cancer.

Copyright 2015 Evernow Publishing Ltd

Go to the profile of Victoria English

Victoria English

Editor, MedNous, a publication of Evernow Publishing Ltd

Co-founder and editor of Evernow Publishing Ltd. International journalist with previous full-time editorial positions at Informa Plc, Thomson Reuters, McGraw-Hill and Dow Jones Inc. Have worked as a correspondent covering finance in New York, Amsterdam, Brussels and London, and covering healthcare and the life sciences in London.

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