Sanofi spends $160M in bet that Tidal’s tech gets it to off-the-shelf CAR-T therapy

Sanofi, which already has two messenger RNA partnerships in place, is going further with the technology via the acquisition of Tidal Therapeutics, a biotech company whose mRNA research could lead it to the next wave of a type of cancer cell therapy called CAR-T.

France-based Sanofi announced Friday that it paid $160 million up front for Tidal, a preclinical company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The pharmaceutical giant said Tidal is developing a way to use mRNA to engineer immune cells in vivo—inside the patient. That approach could lead it to an off-the-shelf CAR-T immunotherapy, a cancer treatment that is currently made in a lengthy, multi-step process that requires the ex-vivo engineering of a patient’s immune cells in a lab.

“We anticipate that this next generation, off-the-shelf approach has the potential to bring CAR-T cell therapy to a much broader patient population,” Frank Nestle, global head of research and chief scientific officer at Sanofi said in a prepared statement. “We believe that the underlying mRNA targeting platform will create disruptive therapeutic approaches across a variety of oncology and autoimmune conditions.”

Messenger RNA serves as the genetic instructions that cells use to make proteins. Sanofi is already collaborating with Germany-based BioNTech on a cancer immunotherapy that uses mRNA to code for proteins intended to get the immune system to more easily recognize and fight tumors. That research is in Phase 1 testing. A separate mRNA alliance with Translate Bio of Lexington, Massachusetts, started in cystic fibrosis before expanding last year to encompass Covid-19. Last month, the partners reported data from a small clinical trial that showed the CF therapy failed to improve lung function. The Covid-19 vaccine candidate is in Phase 1/2 testing.

Tidal is based at LabCentral, a shared laboratory space for life science startups. Founded in 2019, it is led by Ulrik Nielsen, a former executive at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals and Torque Therapeutics.

Sanofi offered few details about Tidal’s approach but said that startup’s technology delivers mRNA to immune cells to reprogram them, providing similar efficacy to ex vivo engineering of immune cells. The company added that this approach is also intended to offer better safety and permit outpatient dosing, as well as repeat dosing. By contrast, CAR-T comes with warnings that the treatment can cause a severe immune system response as well as brain toxicity. It’s also not meant for repeat dosing. Another drawback to CAR-T is that these therapies treat blood cancers, not solid tumors. Sanofi did not say whether Tidal’s technology could enable a CAR-T to treat solid tumors.

Photo: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

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