Replay’s hub-and-spoke business model has spun out another company – this time in partnership with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
On Feb. 14, the San Diego- and London-based Replay and Houston-based MD Anderson announced the launch of Syena, a new oncology-focused product company pioneering T-cell receptor natural killer cell therapies (TCR-NKs).
The new company will utilize intellectual property and technology from both MD Anderson to create a next generation of cell therapy that combines the safety, potency and scalability of natural killer (NK) cells with T-cell receptors’ (TCRs) ability to target intracellular tumor antigens.
“This first-in-class TCR-NK technology provides an opportunity for Replay to disrupt the existing cell therapy paradigm and positions Syena to become a leader in this space,” said Adrian Woolfson, executive chairman, president and co-founder of Replay.
The new company’s TCR-NK cell platform is based upon the scientific discoveries of Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy at MD Anderson.
Rezvani’s work has explored the role of NK cells in utilizing the body’s innate defense systems against human malignancies, as well as strategies to enhance their killing function. She was the first investigator to conduct a clinical trial with chimeric antigen receptor-natural killer (CAR-NK) cells derived from umbilical cord blood and has successfully advanced 11 cell therapies into the clinic through MD Anderson’s institutional support.
Syena’s TCR-NK cell therapy platform will combine the advantages of engineered TCR cancer therapy with those of NK cells, offering the possibility of improved safety and efficacy through a multi-armored approach incorporating natural and artificial mechanisms. Unlike chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-based therapies, which recognize specific surface proteins, TCR therapies are engineered to recognize proteins normally found inside the cell. The use of a TCR allows the NK cell to recognize externalized protein fragments presented by the cell’s surface immune proteins.
“NK cells play a pivotal role in anticancer immunity and, following the successes of CAR T-cell therapy, and the potential for CAR-NK therapies, TCR-NK cells are positioned to be a next-generation agent for cancer therapy,” Rezvani said. “We believe that the TCR-NK cell approach will allow targeting of a broad range of tumor antigens, including cancer-specific neoantigens, and could pave the way for potentially safe and efficacious ‘off-the-shelf’ cell therapies for hematological malignancies and solid tumors.”
Woolfson said Rezvani’s research into arming NK cells with TCRs could potentially bring the kind of clinical successes engineered cell therapies have in cancers that begin in blood-forming tissue like the bone marrow to solid tumors.
Replay CEO and co-founder Lachlan MacKinnon described Rezvani’s clinical data as “compelling” and that her “expertise with engineered NK cells will prove invaluable” for the new company.
“We are delighted to have Dr. Rezvani, a world-leading expert in NK-based cell therapy and pioneer of CAR-NK cell therapy, as the scientific founder of Syena. We believe Syena has the potential to redefine this emerging area of medicine and to provide compelling new cell therapy options for patients in need,” he said.
Syena marks Replay’s latest endeavor in its business model, since the company came out of stealth last year with a business model that creates “spoke” companies which utilize Reply’s “Big DNA” toolkit.
This latest spoke company will combine the contributions of Replay and MD Anderson to build a pipeline of engineered cell therapies using Syena’s novel TCR-NK cell platform, licensed exclusively from MD Anderson. The pipline of therapies will target a selection of validated cancer neoantigens – proteins that form on cancer cells when certain mutations occur in tumor DNA. One such therapy is anticipated to enter the clinic in Q2 2023. Syena will also receive licenses to various Replay cell and genome engineering platform technologies.
“MD Anderson and Dr. Rezvani have advanced outstanding science in this space, and we look forward to working with them to accelerate the development of these novel cell therapies,” said Kugan Sathiyanandarajah, managing director at KKR and a board director at Replay. KKR led Replay’s $55 million seed round in July of last year. “Coupled with Replay’s platform technologies and oncology drug development experience, Syena has the potential to have a significant impact on this important life science sector and to make a meaningful contribution to human health.”
CEO: Lachlan MacKinnon
Headquarters: San Diego and London
Business: Genomics medicine platform technologies
Notable: Replay co-founder Adrian Woolfson previously held executive roles at Pfizer and Bristol Meyers Squibb.