Adicet Joins the Immunotherapy Fray With $51M and Mystery Cells

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Adicet Bio is launching today with $51 million in Series A cash to make immunotherapies derived from human cells as a treatment for cancer and other diseases. Unlike experimental, personalized products using a patient’s own engineered T cells, which have had early success in blood cancer trials, Adicet wants to make “off the shelf” products, more like conventional drugs that are produced en masse.

No off-the-shelf, or allogeneic, cell immunotherapy has reached clinical trials. But the French firm Cellectis (NASDAQ: CLLS) used its version, called UCART19, to treat a British infant last year with leukemia, granting a special request from her parents. As of late last year, the child’s cancer was in remission. UCART19 is scheduled to enter clinical trials this year.

Companies developing allogeneic cell treatments believe they will be easier and cheaper to manufacture and distribute quickly to patients. But as foreign cells, they must overcome a big hurdle: clashing with the immune systems of patients who receive them.

In a brief conversation, Adicet president and CEO Aya Jakobovits (pictured) kept many details about the new company close to the vest. She said Menlo Park, CA-based Adicet will use engineered immune cells for its products, but she declined to say whether they would be T cells or another type of immune cell.

The cell type Adicet is developing as a therapy remains under wraps, but it plans to modify those cells with technology it is acquiring via an Israeli biotech, Applied Immune Technologies, for an undisclosed amount. AIT has developed a way of making antibodies that home in on bits of protein on the surface of tumors and other diseased cells. These bits, called peptides, are a signature that typically attract the immune system’s disease-killing T cells. But cancer cells have amassed tricks to avoid detection by T cells, so drug developers are trying various ways to help the immune system overcome them.

Jakobovits said AIT’s technology uses antibodies to latch onto those peptides without targeting similar peptides that might pop up on healthy cells—theoretically avoiding dangerous side effects. She said the AIT technology would be complementary to Adicet, allowing Adicet to create immune cells that express an antibody on their surface that guides the cell to the tumor.

AIT has also developed a way to find new peptides that can be attacked with precision.

Jakobovits is no stranger to monoclonal antibodies and cell therapies. She headed the development of a breed of mouse, the XenoMouse, genetically engineered to produce human antibodies that could be used as drugs in humans. Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) bought the XenoMouse’s owner Abgenix for $2.2 billion in 2005 and brought two antibody drugs from its pipeline to market.

She was also the founding president and CEO of Kite Pharma (NASDAQ: KITE) of Santa Monica, CA, which is competing with Novartis (NYSE: NVS) and Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) to bring the personalized, or autologous, type of T cell therapy to market. All have taken programs for blood-borne cancers into Phase 2 studies.

Jakobovits said Adicet has eight employees now and could have as many as 30 by year’s end. She declined to give a timeline for clinical development. She will remain a venture partner at OrbiMed Advisors, the investment firm that led Adicet’s Series A round, but is “fully committed to running Adicet for years to come,” she said.

The venture arm of Novartis and Israeli investors Pontifax joined OrbiMed in funding Adicet. Four of the five directors on Adicet’s board are from OrbiMed, including Jakobovits.