2020-04-26| R&D

Gilead, Kite, and oNKo-innate Collaborate to Advance Cancer Immunotherapy Using NK Cells

by Tulip Chakraborty
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By T. Chakraborty, Ph.D.

On April 21st, 2020, Gilead Sciences, it’s subsidiary Kite Pharma, and oNKo-innate announced that the three companies have agreed to enter a research collaboration for three years to facilitate the discovery and development of next-generation cancer immunotherapy focusing on Natural Killer (NK) cells.

Dr. William A. Lee, Executive VP of research at Gilead, said that “Gilead is pleased to partner with oNKo-innate as a leader in this new and highly promising area of cancer immunotherapy. We have a strategic focus of growing both our expertise and pipeline in immuno-oncology and we believe this exciting collaboration will support each of these objectives as we work to discover and develop novel cancer therapies for patients.”


NK Cells for Cancer Immunotherapy

Cancer immunotherapy is predominantly concentrated on T cell therapy. Multiple studies have shown that cancer cells have devised mechanisms to evade the host immune system and proliferate in the human body. These immunotherapies target the immune cells to have an enhanced cytotoxic response towards proliferating cancer cells. With the success of chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy (CAR-T therapy) and immune checkpoint inhibitors in clinical trials, immunotherapy is here to stay. NK cells are another type of immune cell that can be used to target cancer cells and operate with a different mechanism. CAR-NK cells have been touted as a probable, ready to use blood cancer therapy since it acts quickly with fewer side effects.

The terms of the agreement dictate that oNKo-innate will receive in advance a lump sum and will be entitled to receive additional payments based on their further accomplishment of the laid-out milestones. They will also be eligible to receive sales royalties based on their immune-oncology and cell therapy programs.



oNKo-innate is a biotechnology company focused on target identification and pre-clinical drug development. “With more than 20 years of collective academic expertise in NK cell biology, we have long believed in the potential for NK cells to play a role in cancer immunotherapy. We look forward to bringing this NK cell expertise and our unique screening techniques into a collaboration with Gilead and Kite to serve a common goal of discovering new treatments for patients”, said Jai Rautela, the Co-founder in the official press release.

In this collaboration, oNKo-innate will be responsible for lead identification, which will enhance the NK cells’ ability to potentiate anti-tumor activity, as well as develop the natural killer cell-based therapies. oNKo-innate will identify the targets on immune cells by using genome-wide screening techniques and its proprietary technology platform.


Roles of Gilead and Kite Pharma in the Collaboration

Gilead Bioscience is a biopharma focussed on research, development, and commercialization of innovative therapies for life-threatening diseases. In this collaboration, Gilead will use the validated targets from oNKo-innate in their immuno-oncology discovery programs to facilitate drug discovery. Kite Pharma specializes in developing cancer immunotherapies, including CAR-T therapy. It will use the validated NK cell constructs in the development of their next-generation cellular therapies.

“Kite is committed to building upon our leadership in cell therapy as we seek to meet the needs of patients with cancer,” said Peter Emtage, Senior VP of Research at Kite. “Early clinical data utilizing adoptively transferred NK cells has been encouraging, and we are excited by the opportunity to scientifically expand our capabilities in this area and to identify novel NK cell therapies to advance toward clinical development.”

Editor: Rajaneesh K. Gopinath, Ph.D.

Related Article: TIGIT Immunotherapy: A Ray of Hope for Cancer Treatment?



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