2021-06-23| Startups

Blackstone Pumps $250 Million in CAR-T Startup, Betting on Intellia’s and Cellex’s Technologies

by Rajaneesh K. Gopinath
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June 22nd, 2021 – CAR-T therapy is an emerging immunotherapy option where a patient’s immune cell is genetically manipulated to enhance its cancer-fighting ability. The success of this therapeutic modality in hematological tumors has given way to attempts in solid tumors. However, increasing the therapeutic window for CAR-T therapies in solid tumors has been a major hindrance. Now, a private equity giant, a gene editing biotech, and an immunotherapy company have come together to tackle this challenge.

Today, Blackstone Life Sciences, a part of the New York-based Blackstone Group, has announced a $250 million investment for founding a new startup along with Intellia Therapeutics and Germany’s Cellex Cell Professionals GmbH. All three parties will each have equal ownership of the new company. The newly launched company will be based in Cambridge, Mass, specializing in autologous and allogeneic CAR-T Therapies.

“This launch represents the first of many steps to addressing the various limitations that currently exist in the cell therapy space, and I am both humbled and excited to be leading the creation of this company with a team of extremely talented individuals,” said Andrew Schiermeier, current Executive VP, and CEO of Intellia. Schiermeier will assume the leadership of the new company as President and CEO.


Improvements in CAR-T Technology

The startup will acquire GEMoaB GmbH, a subsidiary of Cellex that develops a switchable universal platform. The on/off switch of the platform provides antigen-specificity to activate the CAR-T cells, thereby improving the therapeutic window of the therapy. The approach will also improve the safety and efficacy of the cell therapy across a range of cancers, including solid tumors, the companies said in a statement.

“Bringing together GEMoaB’s universal CAR-T platform with Intellia’s differentiated allogeneic T cell platform and CRISPR-based cell engineering provides a unique opportunity to move cell therapy technology to new heights. Our focus is on providing significantly safer and more efficacious treatments to patients who are suffering from hard-to-treat cancers and autoimmune diseases,” Schiermeier added.

As per the terms, the new company will have an exclusive license to combine Intellia’s CRISPR/Cas9 allogeneic platform with GEMoaB’s switchable, universal CAR T-cell platforms (UniCAR and RevCAR). Secondly, the new company will enter into a co-development and co-funding agreement with Intellia to develop an allogeneic CAR T-cell therapy product for an immuno-oncology indication. Intellia will also have an additional option to enter into a second partnership.


Blackstone’s Long-Term Investment Portfolio

Blackstone is well known for its multiple investments in the Boston life science ecosystem. It has bet heavily on various startups, medical device companies, and drugmakers through equity investments and loans over the years. The global investment firm was featured in Barron’s for infusing around $16 billion in life science investments in 2020. Last year, Blackstone also raised $4.6 billion in an oversubscribed inaugural Blackstone fund in Life Sciences, which turned out to be the largest life sciences private fund to date.

“We believe that this exciting effort has the potential to leapfrog current CAR-T technologies and improve the standard of care for a broad range of patients,” said Dr. Nicholas Galakatos, Global Head of Blackstone Life Sciences.

“As the sole founding investor, Blackstone will be actively involved in building this platform, leveraging our deep expertise in oncology and our scale capital. Our partnership with Intellia and Cellex is customized to address the new company’s needs and set it up for success from day one, and while it is an earlier-stage, growth investment for us, it demonstrates the versatility of our investment platform and commitment to advance potentially transformational technologies to benefit patients.”

Related Article: Takeda to Sell its Japan Consumer Health Business to Blackstone for $2.3B


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