Startup Clade from CRISPR Therapeutics founder pursues cloaked stem cells for cancer therapy

CRISPR Therapeutics has been pursuing the idea of using gene-editing to make universally compatible stem cells for some time, but there’s an new development in this space.

The potential here is big. What if you could make cloaked stem cells that could be used to produce cellular therapies that could be given to most patients without fear of immune rejection?

Chad-Cowan, CRISPR Therapeutics, Clade Therapeutics
Chad Cowan, co-founder of CRISPR Therapeutics, has now started Clade Therapeutics to make cloaked stem cells as the basis for cancer therapies.

Clade Therapeutics

Boston Business Journal covers the news: Harvard CRISPR pioneer Chad Cowan launches $87M stem cell play. This story is about Clade Therapeutics, founded by Harvard stem cell biologist Chad Cowen.

Clade’s goal is to differentiate stem cells to generate cloaked immune cells for allogeneic cancer applications. The stealthy stem cells are induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells.  From the article:

“We were able to put together the insights we had both from the cellular and humoral immune systems to make what we call a cloaked pluripotent stem cell,” Cowan said. “That was the beginning of Clade.”

Cowen didn’t specify which cancers the firm might go after first.

Universal Cells and Astellas

It’s an intriguing idea and one which brings to mind other generally similar efforts. For instance, for years the biotech Universal Cells has been doing research on universally compatible stem cells.

Their motto is “Making Stem Cells Work for Everyone.”

Note that Astellas acquired Universal Cells.

CRISPR Therapeutics and ViaCyte

Cowen has had a key role in starting numerous biotechs including especially CRISPR Therapeutics, where he was one of the founders.

CRISPR is working with ViaCyte to make a cellular product for type 1 diabetes. I interviewed ViaCyte CEO Paul Laikind recently and asked him about their collaboration with CRISPR Therapeutics. Here’s a key question and answer on the tech:

How is what you are doing different than that of the company Universal Cells that was acquired by Astellas?

ViaCyte: With CRISPR Therapeutics we will be using CRISPR/Cas9-based gene editing technology, whereas Universal Cells uses recombinant adeno-associated virus technology to modify the stem cell DNA.  Many candidate targets exist beyond what Universal Cells has disclosed.

A statement from ViaCyte makes this work sound generally similar to that of Clade, “Under the terms of the agreement, CRISPR and ViaCyte will jointly seek to develop an immune-evasive stem cell line as a first step on the path to an allogeneic stem-cell derived product.”

However, part of the difference here is technical and part is the disease focus it seems.

Other competitors and looking to the future

My immediate thought when I saw the headline about Clade was that it might be a spinoff of CRISPR but that does not appear to be the case.

An Endpoints article on this development also highlights several other potential competitors for Clade, including CRISPR Therapeutics itself.

“Clade is far from alone in this space. Just last month, CRISPR announced the first major batch of data from its off-the-shelf CAR-T program, showing that 58% of the 26 large B-cell lymphoma patients who received the therapy saw their tumors shrink and that 38% had no signs of cancer whatsoever. Dhvanit Shah, another Harvard Stem Cell Institute researcher,  launched Garuda Therapeutics in September with the goal of developing off-the-shelf blood stem cell therapies.

There’s also Allogene, which was slapped with a clinical hold last month after a patient in one of their early-stage studies developed a “chromosomal abnormality” in their CAR-T cells.”

In the specific case of an allogeneic product like from Clade, it will have to compete with already ongoing autologous approaches. For example, CAR-T cells made from a patient’s own cells are already in the clinic and many more products are coming.

Off-the-shelf products might be cheaper and quicker to deploy, but will they work as well and be as safe? We’ll have to see the trial data down the road.

I’m optimistic. Looking ahead, it seems likely that one or more of these firms has a good chance of making a successful product.

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