US-based company Bellicum Pharmaceuticals has entered into a research agreement with Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) in the Netherlands, to discover and validate natural high-affinity T-cell receptor (TCR) product candidates targeting a wide range of cancers.
Built on a previous agreement with LUMC, the new partnership has provided Bellicum with global rights to TCR product candidates that target solid tumours expressing preferentially-expressed antigen in melanoma (PRAME) and other antigens.
Bellicum Pharmaceuticals president and chief executive officer Tom Farrell said: "We are enthusiastic about the potential of TCRs that incorporate our switch technology to produce a targeted, potent and controlled attack on certain cancers.
"Dr Mirjam Heemskerk and her group from the Department of Hematology of the LUMC have made significant breakthroughs in the development of natural high-affinity TCRs, and we look forward to their continued discoveries as we prepare to launch clinical studies this year of our first TCR, BPX-701, under our current licence from Leiden."
As part of the agreement, Bellicum will provide financial assistance to the university over a term of three years in exchange for the exclusive rights to license any high-affinity TCRs discovered under the deal.
T-cell receptors are engineered T-cells that become activated while in the presence of the cancer cells containing a target antigen.
Bellicum's first TCR product candidaten, known as BPX-701 targeting PRAME, is expected to enter Phase I/II clinical trials in the middle of this year in order to treat patients suffering from refractory acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).
BPX-701 was licensed from Leiden last year and implements the biopharmaceutical company's proprietary safety mechanism CaspaCIDe, in order to ensure enhanced control over the cells.