Syena created to deliver first-in-class TCR-NK cell therapy

natural killer NK cells

Replay, a genome writing company reprogramming biology by writing and delivering big DNA, and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, have launched Syena, a new oncology-focused product company pioneering T-cell receptor (TCR) natural killer (NK) cell therapies (TCR-NKs).

Building on the intellectual property and technology from MD Anderson and Replay, Syena has the potential to create the next generation of cell therapy, combining the safety, potency, and scalability of NK cells with the ability of TCRs to target intracellular tumor antigens. The new company’s TCR-NK cell platform is based upon the scientific discoveries of Katy Rezvani, professor of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy at MD Anderson.

“This first-in-class TCR-NK technology provides an opportunity for Replay to disrupt the existing cell therapy paradigm and positions Syena to become a leader in this space,” said Adrian Woolfson, executive chairman, president, and co-founder of Replay. 

“While clinical successes in hematological malignancies have demonstrated the transformative potential of engineered cell therapies, these successes have not yet been realized in solid tumors. NK cells offer distinct advantages over T-cells and building on Dr. Rezvani’s research to arm them with TCRs has the potential to significantly impact oncology cell therapy.”

Syena targeting cancer neoantigens

Based on the contributions of Replay and MD Anderson, Syena will build a pipeline of engineered cell therapies using its novel TCR-NK cell platform, licensed exclusively from MD Anderson. It is targeting a selection of validated cancer neoantigens, including NY-ESO-1, and additional undisclosed TCRs. The NY-ESO-1 program in hematological malignancies and solid tumors is anticipated to enter the clinic in Q2 2023.

Syena’s TCR-NK cell therapy platform will combine the advantages of engineered TCR cancer therapy with those of NK cells, offering the possibility of improved safety and efficacy through a multi-armored approach incorporating natural and artificial mechanisms. Unlike chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-based therapies, which recognize specific surface proteins, TCR therapies are engineered to recognize proteins normally found inside the cell. 

TCR allows the NK cell to recognize externalized protein fragments presented by the cell’s surface immune proteins.

NK cells play a pivotal role in anticancer immunity and, following the successes of CAR T-cell therapy, and the potential for CAR-NK therapies, TCR-NK cells are positioned to be a next-generation agent for cancer therapy,” Rezvani said. 

“We believe that the TCR-NK cell approach will allow targeting of a broad range of tumor antigens, including cancer-specific neoantigens, and could pave the way for potentially safe and efficacious ‘off-the-shelf’ cell therapies for hematological malignancies and solid tumors.”

11 cell therapies

Rezvani’s work at MD Anderson has explored the role of NK cells in mediating innate immunological activity against human malignancies, as well as strategies to enhance their killing function. She was the first investigator to conduct a clinical trial with cord blood derived CAR-NK cells, and has successfully advanced 11 cell therapies into the clinic through MD Anderson’s institutional support and commitment to advance innovative science.

“We are delighted to have Dr. Rezvani, a world-leading expert in NK-based cell therapy and pioneer of CAR-NK cell therapy, as the scientific founder of Syena,” said Lachlan MacKinnon, CEO and co-founder of Replay. 

“Dr. Rezvani has generated compelling clinical data with CAR-NK cell therapies, and her expertise with engineered NK cells will prove invaluable in guiding our scientific efforts. We believe Syena has the potential to redefine this emerging area of medicine and to provide compelling new cell therapy options for patients in need.”

Syena will receive licenses to various Replay cell and genome engineering platform technologies.

“MD Anderson and Dr. Rezvani have advanced outstanding science in this space, and we look forward to working with them to accelerate the development of these novel cell therapies,” said Kugan Sathiyanandarajah, managing director at KKR and a board director at Replay. 

“Coupled with Replay’s platform technologies and oncology drug development experience, Syena has the potential to have a significant impact on this important life science sector and to make a meaningful contribution to human health.”

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