The startup is working with UCLA researchers on a new strategy that revolves around targeting abnormal proteins produced by genes with specific cancer mutations.
At a recent conference held by the American Association for Cancer Research on the potential for immune-oncology therapies to treat solid tumors, the startup Pact Pharma announced that, in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), it has developed a new strategy to achieve that goal for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies.
The company’s approach involves analyzing the DNA of individual cancer patients to determine if specific cancer mutations are present; the genes with the mutations of interest produce abnormal proteins. Pact Pharma intends to produce cell therapies that target these neoantigens.
As a first step, bioinformatics tools are used to identify the “mutation blueprint” of a patient’s tumor. T-cells with the ability to recognize and target the neoantigens, are then harvested from the patient’s blood. Next, gene editing is used to attach mutation-targeted T-cell receptors to the T-cells to generate what the company calls NeoTCR-P1, a personalized CAR T-cell therapy, that is then infused back into the patient.
UCLA researchers have used the Pact technology to identify mutations in melanoma samples from two patients that had positive and negative responses to a PD-1 inhibitor. They then produced T-cells specific to each patient’s mutations and demonstrated that the cell therapies killed melanoma cells taken from the patients.
Pact Pharma, which was co-founded in 2017 by several UCLA researchers, has already raised $126 million in two funding rounds and launched a phase 1 study in patients with solid tumors. It hopes to enroll nearly 150 patients in the trial and plans to study NeoTCR-P1 as a monotherapy, and in combination with the PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab, Bristol-Myers Squibb).