Cell therapy may be the new technology to watch in the life sciences space.
US player Nkarta Inc (NASDAQ:NKTX) received huge interest at float on Friday, when shares rocketed to US$58.69 from the initial US$18 listing, valuing the business at just shy of US$1.8bn.
It has now pulled back to US$35.35, but it is still a billion-dollar company.
The listing brought in almost US$290mln in new funding from investors such as RA Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Novo and GlaxoSmithKline.
Nkarta plans to use the funds to get its three oncology therapies into the clinic, including human trials on one of them as early as this year.
Its technology uses natural killer (NK) cells from healthy donors engineered to help cancer patients.
It is part of the wider realm of cell therapy which includes CAR-T, or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell.
As the name suggests the technology involves T-cells, white blood cells that help the immune system fight disease and infection.
CAR-T therapies re-engineer the blood to recognise cancer cells that have been hiding in the body that haven’t been destroyed.
According to Nkarta, CAR-T therapy has shown promise in hematologic malignancies, such as leukaemia, though not in solid tumours.
It also has high relapse rates, limiting the scope of its use, and it can have unwanted side effects.
But the research is just at the beginning.
This technology first gained interest towards the end of 2018 when UK regulators reached a deal over pricing with pharma giant Novartis for its cutting-edge Kymriah treatment for a type of leukaemia.
In London’s junior market, Tiziana Life Sciences PLC (LON:TLSA)(NASDAQ:TILS) is tackling these issues by studying how to use Foralumab, its fully human anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody, alongside the therapy.
“Being a fully human anti-CD3 mAb, Foralumab is most suitable for CAR-T therapy as it does not produce an immune response unlike other humanised anti-CD3 mAbs,” explained chief executive Dr Kunwar Shailubhai.
Similarly, MaxCyte Inc (LON:MXCT) partnered with Caribou Biosciences to provide its flow electroporation systems and ExPERT platform in its allogeneic T-cell therapy programmes. The latter use healthy donor cells as opposed to the patient's to treat blood and solid cancers.
The AIM-listed firm also created an R&D business called CARMA Cell Therapies to develop a potential therapy for ovarian cancer and peritoneal mesothelioma, with results from a phase I study are expected later this year.
“The principles of engineering cell-based therapies are always based on using the same raw material – blood cells,” said Emma Ulker, Proactive’s healthcare analyst.
“MaxCyte’s proprietary clinical platform CARMA is based on a novel cell engineering modality that is potentially more versatile and efficient than those used for first-generation CAR-T therapies. It is one of the first wave of CAR platforms aiming at overcoming challenges of targeting solid tumours as well as blood cancers, with no adverse effects yet seen in studies.”