Allogene taps Arbor in pursuit of ‘off-the-shelf’ CAR-T therapies for autoimmune disease

Allogene Therapeutics is turning to gene editing startup Arbor Biotechnologies for help developing “off-the-shelf” cell therapies for autoimmune diseases, the companies said Tuesday

Allogene has been a longtime leader in the push to make cellular medicines known as “allogeneic” CAR-T therapies. These treatments are derived from the cells of donors and seen as more convenient and accessible alternatives to the personalized, or “autologous” CAR-T drugs now used for some blood cancers. 

But the company has struggled with that endeavor. Though its medicines have showed promise in clinical testing, they haven’t matched the results of their personalized counterparts. Autologous CAR-T therapies have also moved into earlier lines of care, raising the bar for potential competitors. 

Allogene responded earlier this year, in part, by expanding into autoimmune disease research. But it’s not alone. More than a dozen clinical trials have launched since a 2022 Nature study showed a cellular medicine could drive a tough-to-treat form of lupus into remission. Those findings have served as a proof point for the potential of cell therapies to address a variety of chronic autoimmune conditions. A number of drug startups, publicly traded biotechs and pharmaceutical companies are involved in a competitive push to develop therapies for lupus, myasthenia gravis and other diseases

Allogene, for its part, is one of those who believe donor-derived treatments may have an edge, because of advantages such as lower side effect rates. The company has said it plans to start a study next year testing a medicine that may not require the chemotherapy regimens typically used to prepare patients for CAR-T therapy. 

The deal announced Tuesday, which gives Allogene a non-exclusive license to Arbor’s gene editing technology, is meant to help it achieve that goal and further stand out from the competition. 

The field “has become quickly crowded, making differentiation key for future success,” said Zachary Roberts, the company’s chief medical officer and head of research, in a statement. Arbor’s technology “and know-how” will enable Allogene “to develop what we believe will be the most effective and broadly accessible CAR T approach for the treatment of autoimmune disease.”

Neither company provided further specifics or outline financial terms. Allogene plans to begin testing ALLO-329, an experimental cell therapy for lupus, in the first half of 2025

The licensing deal is one of several partnerships for Arbor, a startup co-founded by gene editing pioneer Feng Zhang and backed by a long list of investors, among them Arch Venture Partners. Over the past few years, the company has formed partnerships with Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Ginkgo Bioworks, and 4D Molecular Therapeutics, among others. 

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