BioNTech Continues U.S. Expansion Plans with Acquisition of Kite’s TCR Platform and Facility

Lymphocytes attacking a cancer cell, illustration
Illustration of lymphocytes attacking a cancer cell. Natural killer cells are a type of lymphocyte that destroys cancer cells and other altered cells by releasing cytotoxic granules.

BioNTech announced this week that it will acquire Kite’s solid tumor neoantigen T cell receptor (TCR) platform and it’s accompanying manufacturing facility in Gaithersburg, a further step to cement the company’s growing presence in the U.S.

The German biotech shot to fame in 2020 with its successful mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, developed and trialed in partnership with Pfizer, but before that BioNTech had a strong focus on developing a range of novel and advanced therapies for cancer. Its pipeline includes mRNA vaccines for cancer, next generation immunotherapies such as boosted chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell and TCR-based therapies, specialist antibody drugs and more.

Expansion into the U.S. has been a goal of BioNTech for some time. The company began pre-COVID with the company’s respectable, but lower than expected, $150M IPO on the Nasdaq in the fall of 2019.

Since then, it has continued with its plans, no doubt boosted by its COVID-19 vaccine. Similar to its mRNA vaccine rival Moderna, BioNTech has done very well out of Comirnaty’s success and now boosts a market cap of $62.7B, significantly increased stock value and is expected to have a revenue in 2021 of $7B.

BioNTech is using its financial achievements to help roll out its original plans to develop multiple cancer therapeutics, in addition to prophylactic mRNA vaccines. In May last year BioNTech competed its acquisition of Neon Therapeutics for $67M—a value twice its market cap at the time, but considerably lower than its IPO. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Neon specialized in developing neoantigen-based personalized cancer vaccines. Neoantigens are proteins that appear on the surface of cancer cells and can be used as a way to detect and target cancer by the immune system.

With the acquisition of Neon as a fully integrated subsidiary, now known as BioNTech U.S., the German biotech gained a base in the country and strengthened its cancer pipeline. Retaining a strong research focus, the branch is headed up by the previous president of R&D at Neon, Richard Gaynor.

The new acquisition of Kite’s solid tumor TCR platform and manufacturing hub not only helps to cement BioNTech’s U.S. operation, but also adds to its neoantigen-related and next generation immuno-oncology expertise.

Kite, now owned by Gilead, is known for being a pioneer in CAR T-cell therapy. It developed the second such therapy to be approved by the FDA, axicabtagene ciloleucel (Yescarta), for second-line large B-cell lymphoma treatment.

CAR T-cell therapy has been very successful at treating “liquid” blood cancers, but has so far been less effective at targeting solid tumors, likely because this kind of therapy hones in on receptors on the surface of cells but is less good at targeting mixed cancer cell populations in the center of solid tumors.

TCR therapy is seeking to solve this problem. It is designed to a more precise range of immune targets and can kill cancer cells faster with less likelihood of healthy tissue being falsely targeted, making it better suited to being developed as an “off-the-shelf” therapy. It is earlier in development than CAR T-cell therapies, but shows a lot of promise in trials carried out to date.

“In order to serve more patients that need cell therapy today, Kite is rapidly growing both through global expansion and seeking new indications for our existing approved CAR T-cell therapies. This transaction will enable us to focus our energies and investment on accelerating the reach of our current CAR T-cell therapies and midterm pipeline,” said Christi Shaw, CEO of Kite, in a press statement.

The amount of the acquisition has not been publicly disclosed, but all 50 members of staff at the Kite site will be offered jobs by BioNTech before the deal closes. To develop cell therapies, such as CAR T and TCR therapeutics, access to a reliable manufacturing plant can be key to a company’s success. With the addition of the Gaithersburg site in Maryland, the company now has manufacturing capacity to support therapy development and clinical trials in both the U.S. and in Europe at its German site in Idar-Oberstein.

“The development of individualized cancer therapies is at the core of our work at BioNTech. The acquisition of the Kite facility and its individualized TCR platform allows us to accelerate the clinical development of our cell therapies in the U.S. and advance at the forefront of individualized cell therapies,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech.

“It also strengthens our presence in the U.S., building on our successful integration of adoptive T-cell and neoantigen TCR therapies as part of our acquisition of Neon Therapeutics last year.”

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