UK (University College London) UCL spin out Quell Therapeutics joins forces with AstraZeneca in $2billion deal

13 June 2023

Quell Therapeutics, a UCL spinout that develops cell engineering technology to treat autoimmune diseases, is to collaborate with biopharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca in a deal worth over $2billion (£1.6bn).

Image shows a female scientist looking through a microscopeQuell Therapeutics is a biotechnology company that develops T regulatory (Treg) engineering cell therapies. It was founded and spun out in 2019 by Professors Emma Morris and Hans Stauss (UCL Institute of Immunity & Transplantation), in partnership with leading experts in Treg cell therapies, cell engineering, solid organ transplantation and autoimmune diseases from King’s College London and Hannover Medical School in Germany.

Tregs are a type of T cell, white blood cells that have a strong immune-suppressive capacity, providing a regulatory function in the body. Quell’s technology can genetically engineer Tregs to reduce an overactive immune response linked to disease.

Through the partnership, experts will target type-1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. Quell also plans to start a clinical trial later this year of a cell therapy designed to prevent rejection of liver transplants.

Professor Hans Stauss (UCL Institute of Infection & Immunity) said: “The technology that the founders of Quell have developed allows for one treatment with engineered Tregs to achieve long-term benefit in patients suffering from autoimmune disease.  The partnership with AstraZeneca will accelerate the pace of bringing this new treatment to patients.”

Professor Geraint Rees, Vice-Provost (UCL Research, Innovation & Global Engagement), said: “Quell Therapeutics’ success in securing this major partnership demonstrates the strength of UCL’s and the UK’s commercialisation ecosystem, allowing academic entrepreneurs to develop and commercialise their expert innovation.

“This partnership with AstraZeneca takes Quell a step closer towards developing life-changing treatments for patients with type-1 diabetes and bowel disease, with more in the long-term future.”

Iain McGill, Quell Therapeutics CEO, said: “Collaboration with AstraZeneca, our first major partner, will accelerate the application of our Treg platform in autoimmune diseases, where we believe there is a broad opportunity to reset immune tolerance and drive durable responses for patients.”

Mene Pangalos, Head of Biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said: “We are moving in a big way into cell therapies outside oncology, where they have been remarkably effective for treating some cancers.”

Quell’s engineering process works by removing a patient’s Tregs and making genetic changes so that they act only on specific tissues without suppressing the whole immune system. They are then infused back into the patient’s bloodstream.

In type-1 diabetes, which typically begins early in life, the Tregs would be engineered to stop the immune attack on insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, which causes the disease. Treatment would need to happen before patients lose all their insulin-producing cells in order to prevent further attack.

Quell Therapeutics was supported in its spin out activity by UCL Business (UCLB), UCL’s commercialisation company. Quell had previously raised about £175 million from a group of investors led by Syncona, a company that focuses on cell and gene therapy startups and now owns 33.7% of Quell. UCL Technology Fund invested alongside Syncona in Quell’s Series A financing in 2019.