Blackstone bets $250million on London biotech Autolus next-generation cancer drug

    The US giant will inject $150 million into Autolus immediately, followed by milestone payments totalling $100 million to accelerate development of its next-generation leukaemia treatments.

    It is the largest ever private financing of a UK biotech from a single source. Its US-listed shares gained 35% to $7.51 in premarket trading.

    Autolus, was originally backed by Neil Woodford and spun out of UCL in 2014, is developing methods of programming the body’s natural T-cell defences to better target and attack tumours.

    Blackstone will appoint a member to the company’s board and receive a mid-single digit royalty based on future sales.

    Dr Nicholas Galakatos, global head of Blackstone Life Sciences, said: “Our investment in these next generation cell therapies exemplify our conviction in the quality and promise of the life sciences sector in the UK. We look forward to building on this investment in the years to come.”

    Science minister George Freeman said: “This is another vote of confidence in the quality of life science in the UK, reinforcing our reputation as a world leader in discovering new cures for currently untreatable diseases like Autolus’ T cell therapy drugs for leukemia.

    Next-gen treatment

    Obe-cel is a CD19 CAR T cell investigational therapy designed to overcome the limitations in clinical activity and safety compared to current CD19 CAR T cell therapies.

    Designed to have a fast target binding off-rate to minimize excessive activation of the programmed T cells, obe-cel may reduce toxicity and be less prone to T cell exhaustion, which could enhance persistence and improve the ability of the programmed T cells to engage in serial killing of target cancer cells.

    Obe-cel is currently being evaluated in a potentially pivotal Phase 1b/2 clinical trial for the treatment of adult ALL, referred to as the FELIX clinical trial.

    Also, in collaboration with Autolus’ academic partner, UCL, obe-cel is currently being evaluated in a Phase 1 clinical trial in B-NHL.

    “Big investments like these give real hope to those suffering from diseases like leukemia – and create high skill jobs & opportunities in the development and manufacturing of treatments to help develop and boost our life science clusters all around the UK.”

    Syncona, the FTSE 250-listed healthcare trust which holds a 25% stake in Autolus, said the obe-cel programme could become a “transformational treatment option.”

    Autolus was today breaking ground on a 70,000sq ft dedicated manufacturing facility in Stevenage to help secure global commercial launch capacity for obe-cel.Today’s announcement is the latest signal of confidence in the life sciences sector which is riding a wave of fresh investment following a run of world-changing successes in the Covid-19 vaccine race.

    Accounts published by Baillie Gifford’s flagship Scottish Mortgage trust today reveal it has trimmed its exposure to Tesla, Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants with healthcare now accounting for 21% of its portfolio.

    Holdings include mRNA vaccine maker Moderna, AI-driven drug discovery platform Recursion Pharma and billionaire Eric Lefkofsky’s personalised medicine developer Tempus.

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