Gilead unit Kite and Appia Bio have signed a partnership and licence agreement to research and develop off-the-shelf allogeneic cell treatments from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) for haematological cancers.

The alliance will leverage Kite’s chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) and Appia Bio’s Appia Cells Utilized for Allogeneic (ACUA) technology platform to create CAR-engineered invariant natural killer T (CAR-iNKT) cells.

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With this allogeneic cell therapy platform, Appia Bio uses the biology of lymphocyte development to produce CAR-iNKT cells from HSCs.

The ACUA platform also provides the ability to enhance efficiency and safety, simplify the production and off-the-shelf availability of HSC-derived CAR iNKT-cell treatments.

According to the deal, Appia Bio will handle both the preclinical and initial clinical research of two CAR-iNKT product candidates.

Kite will pay up to $875m in an upfront payment, equity investment and additional milestone payments to Appia Bio, which will also receive tiered royalties.

The Gilead unit will also oversee the development, production and marketing of the product candidates emerging out of the partnership.

Kite corporate development and strategy vice-president Mert Aktar said: “As a pioneer in cell therapy, Kite is deeply committed to developing the next generation of cell therapies to treat and potentially cure cancer patients.

“Through our collaboration with Appia Bio, we’re excited to harness unique biological properties of invariant natural killer T cells to research and develop allogeneic cell therapies for cancer.”

A US-based early-stage biotechnology company established last year, Appia Bio focuses on creating engineered allogeneic cell treatments for various indications using the ACUA technology platform.

The company raised Series A funds to progress its allogeneic CAR-iNKT cell treatment candidates into clinical trials.

Appia Bio CEO JJ Kang said: “Our partnership with Kite is an important step toward establishing the broad pipeline potential of our ACUA platform and bringing new treatment options to patients.”

In April 2020, Kite signed a licence and collaboration agreement with Teneobio for sole rights to some antibodies intended for the treatment of multiple myeloma.