Backed with £30 million from healthcare investment group Syncona and following major support from the UK government, University College London has created Autolus to develop CAR T-cell products to fight cancer.

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) immunotherapies represent a hot area of research with many believing they have the potential to transform cancer therapy. T-cells can be taken from a person’s blood sample, grown in the laboratory and ‘re-programmed’ to recognise and kill cancer cells by introducing a gene for an artificial protein - a CAR.

Autolus is joining a field which involves established players - notably Novartis - and a number of newer firms such as Kite Pharma and Juno Therapeutics. The spin-off is founded on the work of Martin Pule, “a thought-leader in T-cell engineering” who will act as chief scientific officer.

He said: “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. Dr Pule added that “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”.

Christian Itin, chairman of Autolus and former CEO of Micromet, said a key element of the firm’s 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”, he added, and will perform its Phase I studies and manufacturing “within the academic infrastructure of the city”.
The series A financing from Syncona follows investment of over £100 million into experimental research at UCL under the UK government’s NIHR Biomedical Research Centre funding scheme. Commenting on the news, life sciences minister George Freeman said it is early days, but said the fresh £30 million commitment “could revolutionise cancer treatments and is a huge boost for the NHS”.