One of the approaches to academic engagement in the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult focusses on commercialisation of research, identifying projects in academia and accelerating them into therapies or enabling technologies, for the benefit of patients.
A novel cell therapy approach for the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia developed initially at Imperial College London and then at University College London (UCL) by scientists was advanced further through the formation of a new venture, Catapult Therapy TCR Ltd in 2014, a joint venture with the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and the technology transfer companies UCL Business and Imperial Innovations.
The product is a gene-modified white blood cell (T-cell) receptor therapy targeting a protein (WT1) that is present on the surface of leukaemia cells at very high levels. Modification by gene therapy of a patient’s T cells aims to make their immune system much more effective at recognising and killing leukaemia cells.
When Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult initiated the collaboration with Imperial College London and UCL, the manufacturing process to generate these cells was extremely labour intensive. This restricted the rate at which the product could be manufactured and resulted in a high cost of goods, a barrier to the adoption of these novel therapies at the time. Through their joint venture, UCL Business and Imperial Innovations contributed with their relevant patents and know-how to Catapult Therapy TCR Ltd. The Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult provided expertise in many aspects of the project, including clinical trial operations, regulatory affairs, manufacturing, analytical and process development, as well as an investment of £10m to take the therapy into and through Phase II trials. During the first stage of development the industrialisation team at Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult improved the process to reduce the cost of goods by 60% and increase throughput by 39%.
At the beginning of this collaboration, regulatory and marketing authorisation requirements were not broadly understood for cell and gene therapies. The project showed that existing regulation can be applied successfully to cell and gene therapy products and has paved the way for other clinical trials of cell and gene therapies.
In 2017, Catapult Therapy TCR Limited was sold to Cell Medica, a cellular immunotherapy company based in the UK.