* Pfizer secures access to early cancer-hunting CAR-T drugs
* Shows interest in immunotherapy after Astra deal failure
* Cellectis gets $80 mln upfront, shares soar 50 percent
(Adds details on rival Novartis research, more on technology,
By Ben Hirschler
June 18 U.S. drugmaker Pfizer, which
failed last month in a $118 billion bid to buy AstraZeneca
, said on Wednesday it had signed a deal with French
biotech Cellectis to develop immunotherapy drugs in
The news sent shares in Cellectis surging 50 percent higher,
valuing the company, which was founded in 1999, at around 195
million euros ($264 million).
Boosting the body's immune system to fight tumours is a hot
area for drug research and was one of the factors that attracted
Pfizer to Britain's AstraZeneca - along with the potential to
cut costs and taxes.
The technology used by Cellectis involves reprogramming
immune system cells to hunt out cancer and represents a
different approach to that used by drugs under development at
The French company's research is still at an early stage but
it hopes to start clinical trials in 2015, initially with a drug
for leukaemia that it has already partnered with unlisted
pharmaceuticals group Servier.
Under the new deal, Cellectis will receive an upfront
payment from Pfizer of $80 million, as well as funding for
The French biotech firm will also be eligible to get
development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments of up
to $185 million per Pfizer product, plus tiered royalties on any
Pfizer has exclusive rights to develop products against 15
biological targets for fighting cancer it selects, while another
12 targets can be selected by Cellectis.
In addition, Pfizer will buy a stake of about 10 percent in
Cellectis through newly issued shares at 9.25 euros each.
Cellectis is developing Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell, or
CAR-T, immunotherapies using engineered cells from a single
donor for use in multiple patients.
This so-called allogeneic approach is in contrast to other
autologous technologies that rely on engineering a patient's own
T-cells and the aim is to make it possible to treat cancer using
a standardised, off-the-shelf therapeutic product.
Pfizer's research head Mikael Dolsten said he believed that
combining the French group's skills with Pfizer's experience in
developing cancer drugs would create "a world-class
Cellectis said it expected to open a site in the United
States to work more closely with scientists at Pfizer.
Novartis currently leads the field in CAR-T drug
development, with autologous products in clinical trials for
leukaemia, lymphoma, mesothelioma and pancreatic cancer.
The Swiss drugmaker highlighted the potential of such
treatments in fighting tumours both in the blood and solid
organs in a presentation to investors on Wednesday.
($1 = 0.7383 Euros)
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Pravin Char and Jane