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June 25, 2021


June 25, 2021

Lion TCR Licenses and Duke-NUS Medical School ink an exclusive IP licensing agreement for Immunosuppressive Drug Resistant Anti-Cancer T-cells

SINGAPORE – June 25, 2021 – Lion TCR and Duke-NUS Medical School have signed an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement for a patent covering a novel TCR-T technology.

This technology was developed by Professor Antonio Bertoletti and his colleagues Anthony Tan and Morteza Hefezi from Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme where they have engineered armoured immune cells that can target recurring cancer cells in liver transplant patients, while temporarily evading the inhibitory effect from immunosuppressant drugs that patients take to avoid organ rejection.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) accounts for 90% of liver cancer, an aggressive cancer ranked third for causes of cancer deaths in 2020. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the major etiologic agent for HCC development, accounting for at least 80% HCC cases in Asia.

A common curative option for HCC is for patients to undergo a liver transplant. However, HBV-related tumor recurrence can still affect these patients post liver transplant. To kill the cancer, doctors can inject T cells, which are specially designed to target hepatitis B material found in the cancer cells. However, liver transplant patients must take drugs that suppress their immune systems to prevent their bodies from attacking the transplants. This significantly hinders the effectiveness of T-cell therapy.

To overcome this limitation, Professor Antonio Bertoletti and his team further modified the T cells to disrupt the functions of the enzymes involved in the metabolism of immunosuppressant drugs needed by the drugs to suppress immune cells. Based on findings published in Hepatology (M Hafezi et al, Immunosuppressive Drug Resistant Armored TCR T cells for immune-therapy of HCC in liver transplant patients, Hepatology, 2020), these ‘immunosuppressive drug resistant armoured HBV- T cell receptor’ (IDRA HBV-TCR) T cells displayed “superior killing” capability of HCC cells for up to four days.  

By combining this novel IDRA-gene editing technology with Lion TCR’s propriety library of TCRs, Lion TCR aims to further enhance its use for TCR-therapy against other cancers. By combining IDRA technology with different TCRs, these modified T cells can also be used to treat other common pathologies associated with immunosuppressant treatment, such as the reactivation of Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) or cytomegalovirus (CMV) in patients receiving immunosuppressants after stem cell or organ transplantation.

Dr Peng Xiaoming, CEO of Lion TCR, said “This new technology can potentially unleash a wide range of applications of new TCR-T cell products for Lion TCR. We are very excited with this addition to our product development pipeline and eventually to bring them forward for patient care!”

Mr David Wang, Director of Centre for Technology and Development at Duke-NUS, added, “This collaboration between Duke-NUS and Lion TCR will enable new T cell therapies to be used in patients who might otherwise not have access to this exciting new cancer treatment because of their concurrent need for immunosuppressive drugs."