Cell Medica has been awarded a $8.7 million Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) grant to accelerate its CMD-502 off-the-shelf chimeric antigen receptor-natural killer T cell (CAR-NKT) cell therapy into clinical development.

The grant will support development programs being conducted in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) that are designed to address the limitations of the current therapies.

The aim of the program is to deliver an off-the-shelf approach, with simplified manufacturing that can serve larger patient numbers, and which allows treatment closer to the time of patient presentation and currently includes four therapies in early-stage development.

The a first-in-human study is expected to start in the second half of 2019, called the ANCHOR study. It will be a dose escalation evaluation of CMD-502 in adults with relapsed or refractory (R/R) diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL), acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

Dr Carlos Ramos, associate Professor, Centre for Cell and Gene Therapy, at BCM and principal investigator in Phase I ANCHOR study, added: “It has been a great pleasure working with the multi-disciplinary team at Cell Medica in the development of its versatile CAR-NKT platform.  Off-the-shelf CAR-NKT cell therapy has the potential to become a better and simpler approach to CAR therapy for patients with hematological and solid tumours.

“Although existing autologous CAR-T cell therapies have demonstrated impressive response rates, the patient-specific manufacturing process is technically challenging, costly, and time-consuming, and comes with complex logistics and substantial treatment delays. The unique properties of NKT cells bring the potential to solve these challenges.”

CPRIT already awarded a $15.3 million grant to Cell Medica in 2012, to support the establishment of operations in Houston, Texas, and fund earlier development programmes.