Cellectis Cancer Treatment Is Successful in First Human Case

  • French company develops engineered T-cells to fight disease
  • Girl with leukemia in remission within `a matter of weeks'

Cellectis SA’s cancer-fighting T-cells were successful in driving out leukemia in their first use in a human, the company said, providing hope that “off the shelf” engineered immune cells may work in future clinical trials.

The Paris-based startup is among a group of drugmakers using engineered T-cells, known as CAR-T therapy, to treat cancers. While CAR-Ts have shown promising results in trials, the customized process -- which involves taking out a patient’s immune system cells, modifying them to recognize the cancer and returning them to patients -- is expensive and hard to reproduce in large quantities. Cellectis differs from its peers by attempting to create a “universal” product with a third party’s T-cells that potentially could be used broadly among many patients.

Researchers at the UCL Institute of Child Health at University College London asked Cellectis for a dose of its drug, UCART19, for an 11-month girl with leukemia who had failed other treatment methods, according to data published Thursday by the researchers. The results will be presented at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting in December.

“The patient was in molecular remission within a matter of weeks,” meaning there was no detectable cancer in her blood, said lead researcher Waseem Qasim, professor of cell and gene therapy at the institute, in an e-mail.

Cellectis’s American depositary receipts gained 11 percent to $38.76 at 11:54 a.m. in New York.

Cellectis uses a gene-editing technology to modify the third-party cells so that a patient’s body won’t identify them as foreign and reject them. So far, the London patient, who received Cellectis’s treatment in June, shows no indication of cytokine release syndrome, a potentially deadly immune system response, according to the abstract of the case study published Thursday.

The cancer treatment is still far from reaching the market. Cellectis hasn’t yet started formal human trials that are needed to get a product approved.

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