Sanofi to Go After mRNA Based Cancer Treatments, Acquires Cambridge Startup for $470 Million
On April 9th, Sanofi announced buying Tidal therapeutics, a preclinical biotech company developing messenger RNA-based treatments for cancer. The French biopharma giant will be paying $160 million upfront and could add $310 million more if the drug shines in clinical trials. The deal will enable Sanofi, which is best known for its diabetes and cardiovascular drugs, to move into the field of cancer and inflammatory diseases.
“We anticipate that this next generation, the off-the-shelf approach has the potential to bring CAR-T cell therapy to a much broader patient population,” said Frank Nestle, Global Head of Research and CSO at Sanofi. “We believe that the underlying mRNA targeting platform will create disruptive therapeutic approaches across a variety of oncology and autoimmune conditions.”
Developing in vivo CAR-T Therapies
Sanofi will get hold of Tidal’s mRNA-based technology, which gained popularity for its use in the development of Moderna and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. But it intends to use it for developing off-the-shelf cell therapies for cancer, inflammatory diseases, and potentially other illnesses.
The technology intends to treat cancer by reprogramming the body’s immune cells against cancer. This concept is not new and is used in developing adoptive cell therapies like CAR-T regularly. However, CAR-T therapies are designed outside the body (ex vivo) and require a complicated process of cost-intensive cell extraction and modification. Tidal’s technology, in contrast, will be able to make modifications right inside the body (in vivo) at similar efficacy as CAR-T therapies. The technology will be delivered inside the body using Tidal’s proprietary nanoparticles.
This approach, however, is early in its development. Much of what is known about its working comes from publications by Fred Hutch’s Matthias Stephan, who founded Tidal. In 2019, Stephan and his colleagues showed that nanoparticles could deliver mRNA encoding for transcription factors that reprogram tumor-associated macrophages to reverse immunosuppression and delay the progression of the tumor.
Last year, Stephan’s group also showed that mRNA could be used to create T cells expressing tumor-specific CARs or virus-specific TCRs, and the approach may be as effective as adoptive transfer of engineered T cells.
Competition Around the Block
With this acquisition, Sanofi joins a few well-known players in the market who are working on in vivo CAR-T therapies. One of them is Flagship pioneering-backed Sana Biotechnology, which is working on off-the-shelf, CAR-T cells as well as in vivo CAR-T therapies.
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