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ONK Therapeutics Strengthens its Cell Therapy Manufacturing Process with License for EBV-LCL Feeder Cell Line from NIH to Enhance NK Cell Expansion

ONK Therapeutics Strengthens its Cell Therapy Manufacturing Process with License for EBV-LCL Feeder Cell Line from NIH to Enhance NK Cell Expansion

  • License with NIH for intellectual property for a clinically-validated, GMP grade feeder cell line to enable robust natural killer (NK) cell expansion
  • Enhances ONK Therapeutics’ evolving research efforts to scale up and support clinical trials

Galway, Ireland, and San Diego, USA, 18 March  2021 - ONK Therapeutics Ltd, an innovative cell therapy company focused on engineered natural killer (NK) cell therapies, today announced it has entered into a license with the US National Institutes for Health (NIH) which provides rights to make and use a clinically-validated GMP-grade feeder cell line that will enable robust natural killer (NK) cell expansion, supporting scale-up of the company’s manufacturing process.

Engineered NK cell therapies are now emerging as an exciting cell therapy platform, that shows promise in overcoming challenges of earlier CAR-T cell therapies, offering alternative therapeutic options for patients with hematological malignancies and solid tumors. Successful ex-vivo expansion of cord-derived NK cells is key to developing large cell batch sizes required to produce truly off-the-shelf engineered NK cell therapy. 

This proprietary, GMP grade Epstein Barr Virus-transformed lymphoblastoid cell line (EBV-LCL) has been proven as a method to expand NK cells as part of a clinical trial being led by Dr. Richard Childs at the NIH. The feeder layer enabled a robust expansion of NK cells with greatly enhanced cytotoxic potential and strong expression of Activating Receptors and Death Receptor ligands.  Expansion of up to 1,000 fold over 2-3 weeks was demonstrated with the potential for continued exponential expansion over longer periods.  This expansion provides a stable and consistent NK cell population that can be subsequently genetically modified and further expanded on a batch scale supportive of clinical trials of ONK’s NK cell therapy candidates.

Prof. Michael O’Dwyer, ONK Therapeutics’ founder and CSO said: “Extensive experience over many years in Dr. Childs’ group at the NIH indicate that co-culture with EBV-LCL cells enables ex-vivo activation and robust proliferation of highly functional NK cells, which can be safely administered to patients. Applying this technology to our cord-derived, dual-targeted NK cell platform will enable the manufacture of large quantities of optimized NK cells for off-the-shelf administration.”

ONK Therapeutics is accelerating the development of its NK cell engineering and manufacturing processes for its unique, proprietary dual-targeted NK cell platform that expresses both a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) targeting a known tumor antigen and a TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand variant (TRAILv) targeting the death receptor pathway (i.e. DR4 or DR5).

This agreement with the NIH follows quickly on the heels of a complementary license that ONK Therapeutics recently announced with Anthony Nolan Cell & Gene Therapy Services. This license provides a consistent supply of scalable and ethically-sourced umbilical cord blood and cord-derived NK cells which, in combination with the EBV-LCL feeder layer, will provide the critical starting material for its off-the-shelf cell therapy manufacturing process, to be used for both ONK Therapeutics’ research activities and continued process development work.

Chris Nowers, ONK Therapeutics’ CEO said: “This important license further enhances our manufacturing capability, taking us another step closer to our goal of creating a next generation of uniquely engineered NK cell therapies, with broad applicability across a wide range of targets and tumor types.”

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Last Updated: 18-Mar-2021