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Waltham startup TScan signs $30m deal with Swiss drug giant Novartis

The local company is working on treatments for kidney cancer.

The Novartis campus in Basel, Switzerland.
The Novartis campus in Basel, Switzerland.Bloomberg

Waltham-based TScan Therapeutics on Wednesday announced a $30 million deal with Swiss pharma giant Novartis to develop therapies to treat a type of kidney cancer.

The biopharmaceutical company is working to develop treatments that focus on T cells, which play a role in the body’s immune system response. By harnessing information from T cells in recovering cancer patients, TScan aims to essentially reprogram the same cells in other patients.

“The idea is to learn from patients who are winning their fight against cancer,” CEO David P. Southwell said in an interview. “We can take T cells from those patients and use them to treat patients that are not — we are essentially stimulating their immune system to fight cancer.”

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The deal with Novartis will exclusively focus on therapies for renal cell carcinoma, which is a type of kidney cancer. TScan said it hopes to start clinical trials within two years.

Novartis would have the option to license and develop such therapies for up to three novel targets. For any additional targets or therapies that arise from the collaboration, Novartis has the right of first negotiation, but TScan would be free to pursue developing the treatment on its own.

“It validates what we are doing and it allows us to keep going with our base business,” Southwell said of the agreement. “We are going to be able to continue work on the targets that Novartis does not pick.”

TScan plans to keep working on its lead research program, which aims to prevent relapses in blood cancers, while also developing therapies for other solid tumor cancers.

“TScan really got operational at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, and our lead therapeutic program will be at the clinic in the second half of 2021,” chief scientific officer Gavin MacBeath said. “This is an area where in the course of one or two years, you can go from discovery to initiating clinical trials.”

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TScan was spun out of Harvard Medical School on research that landed its co-founders on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for 2020.

The company has raised more than $60 million over two rounds of funding with investors that include Longwood Fund, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Astellas Venture Management, Novartis Venture Fund, Bessemer Venture Partners, GV, 6 Dimensions Capital, and Pitango Venture Capital.

With funding from Novartis, the company said, it has enough money to operate into 2022. The privately held biotech has about 40 employees in Waltham.


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.