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International deal for Kiwi cancer therapy biotech

26 April 2023

A New Zealand cancer immunotherapy biotech has entered a multi-million dollar commercial deal with leading international pharmaceutical company Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd for an exclusive license to its unique CAR T-cell technology in India. 

Wellington Zhaotai Therapies, a joint venture between the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and Hunan Zhaotai Medical Group, was established in 2017 to take Hunan Zhaotai's novel CAR T-cell technology to the global market. In 2019 after further development at the Malaghan Institute, a phase I safety trial, ENABLE, got underway in New Zealand. Results of the trial are due to be published later in 2023.

Wellington Zhaotai Therapies Executive Director Peter Lai says the agreement is an inflection point for Wellington Zhaotai Therapies and reflects the successful partnership between the two research teams in New Zealand and China.

“This validates that the technology we’ve developed is attractive to the pharmaceutical industry and that the safety and efficacy clinical data generated to date by Wellington Zhaotai Therapies has given Dr. Reddy’s confidence in our CAR T-cell product.”

Wellington Zhaotai Therapies’ novel CAR T-cell construct has a unique, patented co-stimulatory domain which produces stronger anti-cancer activity in the laboratory than existing second generation CAR T-cells, which may provide a more effective treatment for patients. Preliminary clinical data also suggests an improved safety profile, with fewer side effects than competing CAR T-cell treatments.

Mr Lai says the agreement gives Dr. Reddy’s exclusive license to trial and commercialise the construct in India, but also signifies a strategic partnership that could potentially extend to other countries and other cell therapies.

“The deal is also a positive reflection on New Zealand’s science ecosystem and the support of the New Zealand Government for New Zealand’s first CAR T-cell clinical trial,” says Mr Lai. “To develop a product through clinical trials to global licensing is no mean feat. This is a significant milestone for a New Zealand biotech.”

Dr Murali Ramachandra, CEO of Aurigene Oncology, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dr Reddy’s, says with Wellington Zhaotai Therapies’ construct they hope to bring an advanced, third-generation CAR-T treatment option to India.

“Pre-clinically, this third-generation CAR T has shown superior activation and proliferation capacity compared with second-generation CAR T products. The available clinical results suggest a superior safety profile. Moreover, we believe this could be the first CD19 CAR T in India, which will be given as a single infusion, due to its good safety profile. Apart from being an effective treatment, single infusion would mean reduction in the length of hospital stay, thereby delivering additional benefits to the patient.”