Immuno-Oncology Resource Center
Immuno-Oncology Resource Center
September 16, 2019
2 min read

Penn, Novartis end groundbreaking CAR-T relationship with new, more focused collaboration

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Photo of Robert H. Vonderheide 
Robert H. Vonderheide
Carl June 
Carl June, MD

The 7-year research and development alliance between Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania has concluded, with both organizations entering into a new, more limited agreement for the development of chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies, according to a Penn Medicine press release.

Penn originally teamed with Novartis in 2012 after researchers from Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center published their findings on the use of CAR T cells to treat patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The original pact, in collaboration with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, resulted in the development of tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah, Novartis), the first gene therapy approved to treat cancer.

The FDA approved tisagenlecleucel in August 2017 for treatment of children and young adults with relapsed or refractory B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The CAR T-cell therapy received additional FDA approval in May 2018 for patients with relapsed or refractory non-Hodgkin lymphoma, including patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, high-grade B-cell lymphoma, or DLBCL arising from follicular lymphoma who received two or more lines of systemic therapy.

“Our highly successful collaboration with Novartis has been an inspiring example of how experts from academic medicine can unite with industry to further develop and bring discoveries from the laboratory to patients across the world who are in desperate need of new treatment options,” J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vice president of University of Pennsylvania Health System and dean of Perelman School of Medicine, said in the press release.

“The FDA approval for Kymriah came in record time, and we are committed to continuing the momentum as we develop new approaches to expand CAR T-cell therapies into more cancers, and beyond,” he added.

Penn and Novartis will continue to collaborate on CAR T-cell projects but with a more limited focus, allowing the University of Pennsylvania to seek out other partners to develop the technology resulting from its research.

“In Philadelphia alone, there are 30 new companies with 3,000 new jobs representing $2 billion of investment in cell and gene therapy — what we call the Cellicon Valley,” Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said in the press release. “As Penn scientists continue to accelerate innovation in T-cell therapies, collaborations beyond one company are critical for us to advance these ideas and bring new options and hope to more patients.”

Penn’s CAR T-cell therapy team will continue to be led by Carl June, MD, a pioneer in the field and the Richard W. Vague Professor of Immunotherapy and director of Penn’s Center for Cellular Immunotherapies.


The new alliance between Novartis and Penn will focus on four clinical trials: one in multiple myeloma using two different CAR T-cell therapies; one trial that combines CAR T-cell therapy with pembrolizumab (Keytruda, Merck) for glioblastoma; and two new CAR T-cell trials that target CD22 and CD123 for hematological malignancies.

The University of Pennsylvania disclosed that some of the technologies associated with CAR T-cell therapy have been licensed to Novartis and that some of the scientists involved with their development hold inventor’s patents on the technologies. As a result, the university and some of its researchers may continue to receive financial benefits from previous and current agreements.