GERMANY – German pharma major Bayer has ended a collaboration with Atara Biotherapeutics, which was based around its novel allogeneic EBV T-cell platform.

Atara, a T-cell immunotherapy company, was collaborating with Bayer to develop therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases, including mesothelin-directed CAR T-cell treatments.

However, earlier this year, the American company received bad news when a fatal serious adverse event (SAE) occurred in a Phase I trial of the autologous mesothelin CAR T, ATA2271.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), which owns intellectual property rights and other interests in the program, chose to voluntarily halt new patient enrollment in the study at the time.

Bayer collaboration

The partnership was formed in late 2020, shortly after Bayer launched a dedicated cell and gene therapy platform within its pharmaceuticals’ division.

As part of the agreement, Atara received a US$60 million upfront payment and was eligible for up to US$610 million in milestone payments.

Bayer’s contribution to the project included funding and development of the candidate, as well as the development of ATA3271, an armored allogeneic T-cell immunotherapy for tumors with high mesothelin expression, such as malignant pleural mesothelioma and non-small-cell lung cancer.

Both therapies include, among other things, Atara’s novel inclusion of armoring in the form of a PD-1 DNR construct to overcome checkpoint inhibition.

The rights and licenses granted by Atara to Bayer under the collaboration will be returned to Atara upon termination of the agreement in September 2022, and Atara will have full rights to continue clinical development and future commercialization of its programs globally.

Atara stated that it would continue to support the ongoing ATA2271 Phase I study, with a trial update expected later this year.

In February, MSK paused enrollment of new patients in the trial following a fatal serious adverse event in a participant.

In its first-quarter financial earnings report earlier this month, Atara said autopsy and additional data were still being analyzed by MSK, and that the partners expect to provide an update for ATA2271 in the second half.

Meanwhile, CEO Pascal Touchon stated the company plans to “re-assess our strategy for our mesothelin CAR-T programme. Consequently, we will postpone the anticipated [investigational new drug] filing for ATA3271 beyond the fourth quarter of 2022.”

He also mentioned that Atara is anticipating an interim analysis for another off-the-shelf T-cell immunotherapy, ATA188, which is being tested in the Phase II EMBOLD study for progressive multiple sclerosis.

It is also waiting for the European Medicines Agency to make a decision on its application for tabelecleucel (tab-cel), an allogeneic T-cell immunotherapy for Epstein-Barr virus-positive post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease.

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