The pricey acquisition of Cell Design Labs, a startup that’s produced no drugs, signals an ongoing acquisition frenzy around one of cancer medicine’s most promising approaches.
Cell Design Labs, founded by University of California, San Francisco, synthetic biologist Wendell Lim, creates “Programs” to install inside T cells, the killer cells of the immune system, giving them new abilities.
Beginning in August, the U.S. approved two novel treatments in which a person’s T cells are genetically reprogrammed to seek and destroy cancer cells. Now, by picking up Lim’s company, Gilead is investing in the next generation of cell designs that could help treat more types of cancer.
“In the future it will be much more of an engineering discipline. These cells are programmable, so having the right operating system and right language are critical to reaching the next level of sophistication and predictability.”
Cell Design Labs, which claims to control key patents covering designer T cells, had been developing new designs, including one featuring a molecular dial that let them turn the killing activity of T cells up or down.
Another featured a T cell reengineered to turn on only if it is attached to not one but two separate molecules on a target cell.