Tusk Therapeutics has been acquired by Swiss pharma giant Roche, which aims to develop one of its lead immunological cancer treatments.
Roche has given Tusk’s shareholders €70M upfront, with up to an additional €585M planned if Tusk achieves certain milestones.
Roche seems particularly interested in one of Tusk’s lead programs, an antibody that reduces the patient’s levels of specific immune cells called regulatory T cells. These cells hold back the immune system from attacking tumors, thus the antibody helps the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer.
The antibody has passed the preclinical stage and Tusk plans to start a Phase I trial in 2019. Roche’s new funds should help accelerate the drug development process.
Tusk has other cancer immunotherapy treatments in development, including an antibody designed to target tumor cells directly, which is also due to begin a Phase I trial this year.
Regulatory T cells are also receiving attention from the French biotech TxCell, which is one of the companies engineering CAR-T cells to treat a range of illnesses. The US company Sangamo Therapeutics acquired TxCell in July, hoping use TxCell’s expertise to engineer regulatory T cells to treat a wide range of autoimmune disorders. Judging from Roche and Sangamo’s acquisitions, there seems to be a recent trend of big pharma companies interested in entering this new field of immunotherapy.
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