This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that cancer has become the leading cause of death worldwide, with the latest data showing that nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 were the result of some form of cancer. At the current rate of increase, the WHO predicts more than 30 million people worldwide will be diagnosed with cancer, of which less than half will survive.
As grim as these statistics are, they’ve created a sense of urgency among global leaders in healthcare who are pouring billions of dollars into breakthrough therapies and diagnostics that can not only prevent people from getting cancer but make the diagnosis less of a death sentence for those who do.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in the past decade to result from that increased cancer research activity is the emergence of cancer immunotherapies. Within the immunotherapy space, gamma delta T cells have become one of the latest research areas to show exciting potential to overcome some of the biggest challenges cancer therapies face today.
The pipeline of cell therapies based on this subset of T cells is so promising that though none have yet reached the market, the global gamma delta T cell therapy market is projected to exceed $4 billion by 2028. Here’s an overview of how gamma delta T cell research is changing the immunotherapy space and some of the latest developments in the sector.
Gamma Delta T Cell Therapy Could Overcome Major Hurdles in Cancer Treatment
Most T cells in the body are like highly specialized guards, trained to find and kill one very specific threat. When you are exposed to a new infection, your immune system studies it and develops T cells specifically engineered to recognize and attack that antigen, a unique molecule or structure of a virus, bacteria, or other foreign substance that can be used to identify it. Afterward, a few of those specialized T cells hang around so that if that same antigen ever appears again, they can start fighting it right away.
This is called adaptive immunity and the bulk of immunotherapy research is based on leveraging those adaptive processes to train your immune system to detect and fight cancers. But the problem is that this approach creates treatments that are really good at treating one very narrow segment of cancer cells because the therapies rely on T cells that are designed to target a specific antigen. Any cancer cells that don’t have that antigen will get ignored.
This limitation has led some researchers to turn to gamma delta T cells. This small subset of T cells is far less specialized. Part of the innate immune system that humans are born with, gamma delta T cells target any cell that looks unusual, rather than patrolling for specific antigens. This makes them less exact and more prone to false alarms but their job is to protect you from any potentially harmful material until your adaptive immune system is advanced enough to do the job with more precision.
As your adaptive immune system gets stronger, then, the number of gamma delta T cells declines. The tradeoff for a more precise immune system is one that’s more likely to miss the early signs of unusual cancer cells growing. Emerging research suggests that high levels of gamma delta T cells are linked to an anti-tumor effect. As those levels decline with age, the risk that cancer cells can grow undisturbed increases.
Another advantage of gamma delta T cells is that they seem to be able to infiltrate the tumor microenvironment—the constellation of immune-suppressing mechanisms that tumors surround themselves with. This is something that other immunotherapies have so far struggled to achieve, rendering them all but incapable of fighting solid cancers.
Key Highlights in the Emerging Gamma Delta T Cell Market
While no drug has yet received approval, a frenzy of clinical research and development across the biotech and pharmaceutical industries has many investors optimistic that a commercially available gamma delta T cell therapy is just around the corner. Here are some of the key highlights from the sector in the past year:
- In January, Bristol-Meyers Squibb BMY and Century Therapeutics, Inc. IPSC announced a co-development partnership to create cell therapies derived from gamma delta cells and other innate immune system cells. The $150 million agreement will merge Century’s gamma delta T and natural killer cell platforms with Bristol Myer’s existing cell therapy technology.
- In the past year, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. TAK acquired Maverick Therapeutics, GammaDelta Therapeutics, and Adaptate Biotherapeutics. All three acquisitions bring innate immune cell technology into Takeda’s portfolio.
- In June, TC BioPharm Holdings TCBP, a clinical-stage biotech developing “off the shelf” gamma delta T cell therapies closed its $4 million public offering. The first company to conduct Phase II clinical research on gamma delta T cell therapies, TC BioPharm is optimistic that its flagship therapy, OmnImmuneTM, will achieve commercial release by 2023.
- At the end of 2021, Adicet Bio Inc. ACET closed its $100 million public follow-on offering, buoyed by the December release of preliminary data showing that patients in its gamma delta CAR-T cell therapy trial were already responding to the novel treatment. The company plans to announce more data this coming December.
Featured Photo by the National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
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