Zelluna and Glycostem team on natural killer TCRs for solid tumors

Zelluna Immunotherapy and Glycostem Therapeutics have teamed up to develop TCR cell therapies for cancers, including hard-to-treat solid tumors.

The partnership will combine Zelluna’s T-cell receptors (TCR) with The Netherlands-based Glycostem’s umbilical cord-derived natural killer cells. The TCR-NK cells will be made at the latter’s manufacturing facility in the Netherlands.

A Zelluna spokesman told us TCR-NKs can target a broader range of tumors than cell therapies made using chimeric antigen receptors (CARs).

Image: iStock/selvanegra

“Adoptive cell therapies, both CAR and TCR, use the power of lymphocytes against cancer targeting their activity through with either CAR or TCR genetically edited on the surface of the cells.

“In the case of CAR an antibody is used and the antibodies can only target a limited number of cancer antigens, about 10 to 30%, while TCRs, which are the normal mechanism of antigen recognition can target all antigens.”

He added, “The partnership between Zelluna and Glycostem will enable to develop a product using NK cells guided with TCRs.

“Zelluna brings to the collaboration the expertise and portfolio on TCRs, the proprietary platform approach and Glycostem the expertise in NK cells and the ability to manufacture NK cells.”

Solid tumours

Cell therapies have made the headlines in recent years, with products like Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) and Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) lauded as significant advances in the treatment of blood cancer.

But developing cell therapies for solid tumors is proving to be more of a challenge. Part of the difficulty, according to Zulluna’s spokesman, is the limited range of targets with which CAR-T therapies can bind.

“The CAR approach is delivering significant value for blood cancers as the target cells are frequently in suspension and more easily accessible to a CAR-T or CAR-NK approach.”

Against solid tumors where access to tumors is more difficult with blood cancers, CAR-T therapies can be less effective than TCR-based cell therapies he continued.

“Because of the ability of TCRs to recognize a broader antigen range and penetrate better and engage with solid tumours, TCR targeting represents a better opportunity to target solid cancers.”

Cancer survivors

Zelluna is not the only firm trying to harness TCRs to develop cell therapies for solid tumours.

However, unlike Adaptimmune which tries to tweak the affinity of its receptors to create more effective therapies, Zelluna uses TCRs from cancer survivors.

Specifically, the firm has the right to license proprietary non-engineered tumour specific TCRs isolated from vaccinated, long-term surviving cancer patients at the Oslo University Hospital.