AstraZeneca has entered the field of autoimmune cell therapy by partnering with Quell Therapeutics, making an upfront payment of $85 million. The collaboration aims to explore the potential of a “one and done” treatment for Type 1 diabetes.
Quell’s approach centers around modified regulatory T (Treg) cells, which can specifically suppress immune attacks. This concept combines CARs, similar to cancer cell targeting technology, with the natural function of Tregs in controlling unwanted immune responses.
Currently undergoing internal testing, Quell’s candidate QEL-001 aims to prevent organ rejection and eliminate the requirement for lifelong immunosuppression. AstraZeneca has entered into an exclusive option and license agreement, committing $85 million initially and potentially more than $2 billion in milestone payments. This collaboration specifically targets type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
According to Quell CEO Iain McGill, the company’s approach can halt the progression of the disease before the patient loses the ability to produce insulin, offering a potential lifelong solution to diabetes.
In the case of IBD, the objective is to stop the inflammatory response in specific gastrointestinal tissues. Similar concepts are being pursued by other pharmaceutical companies, such as GentiBio, which is collaborating with Bristol Myers on IBD and internally focusing on diabetes.
Despite strong competition, Quell has successfully raised approximately $220 million, demonstrating its ability to tackle two significant autoimmune diseases. The CEO sees Quell’s “phenotype lock” technology as a competitive advantage, enabling the company to maintain the suppressive capacity of the cells even under attack.
The partnership with AstraZeneca strengthens Quell’s financial position in the capital-intensive field of cell and gene therapy. Quell had secured $156 million in series B financing 18 months ago. With funding from AstraZeneca and its own resources, the company is poised to generate clinical proof of concept evidence in three diseases, including the collaborative indications and its primary internal focus on organ rejection. Quell will be responsible for process development and manufacturing of the joint assets until the completion of first-in-human research.
McGill believes that the initial indications represent a fraction of the immune dysregulation conditions that Quell’s platform can potentially address. In the future, the technology may be applied to treat additional conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.