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Gracell Biotechnologies Signs Exclusive License Agreement with FutureGen Biopharm to Develop Engineered Immune Cell Therapies Targeting Claudin 18.2 in Solid Tumors

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Gracell Biotechnologies Signs Exclusive License Agreement with FutureGen Biopharm to Develop Engineered Immune Cell Therapies Targeting Claudin 18.2 in Solid Tumors | Pharmtech Focus

Gracell Biotechnologies Inc. (NASDAQ: GRCL) (“Gracell”), a global clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to developing highly efficacious and affordable cell therapies for the treatment of cancer, today announced an exclusive license agreement with FutureGen Biopharm (“FutureGen”), an innovative biopharmaceutical company, to develop engineered immune cell therapies targeting Claudin 18.2 (“CLDN18.2”) in solid tumors.

The collaboration aims to leverage Gracell’s extensive experience in immune cell therapy in synergy with FutureGen’s fully human CLDN18.2 antibodies to develop, manufacture and commercialize novel immune cell therapies for the treatment of patients with CLDN18.2 positive cancers.

CLDN18.2 is a tumor-specific marker that is overexpressed in a variety of tumor tissues, including in gastric or gastroesophageal junction cancers, pancreatic cancers and esophageal cancers, but rarely expressed in normal human tissues. This feature supports the therapeutic potential of CLDN18.2 as a key target for immune cell therapies. In particular, gastric cancer (around 70% CLDN18.2 expression) is among the most frequently diagnosed malignancies worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer-related death. An estimated 1,033,701 new cases and 782,685 deaths occurred in 2018, representing a highly unmet medical need in treating gastric cancer. 

“Gracell has been making significant progress in developing innovative CAR-T therapies for solid tumors as well as hematological malignancies,” Dr. William (Wei) Cao, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Gracell said. “This partnership with FutureGen marks another key milestone in our persistent efforts for treating solid tumors. Moving forward, we expect to explore more strategic alliances to identify additional targets that maximize the value of our highly differentiated technology platforms and eventually benefit cancer patients worldwide.”

“Gracell has been optimizing its proprietary Enhanced CAR technology to improve CAR-T cell persistence and efficacy in solid tumors. The preliminary clinical investigator-initiated trial data of our first generation Enhanced CAR-T for solid tumors has shown tolerability and preliminary efficacy. These initial results have been accepted to be published soon in Cellular & Molecular Immunology,” said Dr. Lianjun Shen, Senior Vice President, Head of Research and Development at Gracell. “We are very excited to partner with FutureGen to develop next generation immune cell therapies against CLDN18.2-expressing malignancies, and hope to unlock significant potential of our next generation Enhanced CAR-T therapies for solid tumors, one of our founding missions.”

Dr. Zhaoyu Jin, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of FutureGen said, “The specific CLDN18.2 antibody has been developed through our innovative STEP and CAP technology platforms. The fine-tuned affinity of antibody for CAR-T application may eliminate CLDN18.2 positive tumor cells more specifically with better safety profile. We are very excited to collaborate with Gracell, a lead company in the cell and gene therapy industry, to leverage their innovative Enhanced CAR-T technology platform and experience in the field and our proprietary cutting-edge technologies to develop advanced treatments across solid tumors.”

Under the terms of the agreement, FutureGen will receive an upfront payment and will be eligible to receive additional payments based on the achievement of non-clinical validation, clinical development and commercialization milestones, as well as low single-digit royalties. 

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