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Adaptive Biotechnologies Looks to Refocus T-Cell Profiling Tech in Wake of Restructuring 


This story has been updated to clarify that Adaptive's minimal residual disease business was not part of the company's recent reorganization. 

NEW YORK – Despite recently downsizing both staff and real estate, among other cost-cutting measures, Adaptive Biotechnologies is finding ways to pursue multiple applications for its T-cell mapping technology. 

In March, the Seattle-based immune sequencing firm dismissed 12 percent of its workforce, while still seeking to fill a few key positions in areas such as clinical development, computational analysis, and personalized cell therapy. 

"Recognizing our cash burn, we made the decision to focus on cash preservation and to streamline our operations and resources," said Sharon Benzeno, the firm's chief commercial officer for immune medicine. 

Nevertheless, the company continues to explore numerous applications for its T-Detect platform, spanning immunological disorders, cancers, and infectious disease. It also continues to adapt the underlying T-Map platform to vaccine and therapeutic development through immune response monitoring. 

T-Map consists largely of the sequence data used to develop T-Detect. This data links T-cell receptors with clinically relevant antigens, essentially providing an interaction map used to make diagnosis more efficient and precise. 

Despite the company seemingly riffing on the currently popular film "Everything Everywhere All at Once," Julia Qin, an analyst with JP Morgan Chase, suggests that the company is making smart choices about how to position itself for the long term. 

"Adaptive is positioned as a platform company, and a multifaceted commercialization approach would enable maximum value capture in the long term," she said. "That said, in a challenging capital market environment, it's important to be disciplined about pipeline investments so the company can focus on assets that have the most potential of generating near-term cash flow." 

Nonetheless, Qin mentioned that some near-term wins out of the company's pipeline, such as further T-Detect launches and pharma partnership milestones would be equally important to a sustainable long-term financial model. 

To that end, last week the firm launched T-Detect Lyme, a CLIA lab blood test that identifies T cells activated by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria to help diagnose early disease. 

In addition, Benzeno mentioned that with the incorporation of ClonoSeq — a minimal residual disease test for multiple myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia — as an objective means of measuring the effect of an intervention, the company is eligible for over $330 million in milestone payments as drugs currently undergoing testing get approved, such as tailored cell therapies being developed in collaboration with Genentech. 

Echoing Qin’s remarks, Benzeno said that the company is focusing its resources on a few select areas, while remaining "opportunistic" regarding the possibility of other projects gaining more traction. 

Recently, Adaptive has identified inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and multiple sclerosis (MS) as key points of focus for the near term. 

"Looking ahead in 2022 and 2023," Benzeno said, "we're putting all our resources into IBD and MS, first and foremost." 

The company is also looking into other neurodevelopmental disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, although these are further down the pipeline than IBD and MS. Adaptive hopes to launch a test within the autoimmune space next year. 

In infectious disease diagnostics, Adaptive is working with partners to acquire the datasets needed to validate T-Map for respiratory syncytial virus, cytomegalovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus. 

"I think COVID was really a spark for us in the infectious disease space," said Catherine Sanders, VP of research and business development. The company received US Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization for a COVID T-cell response test called T-Map COVID in 2020. 

Previously, the firm had focused more on hematology, oncology, autoimmunity, and transplantation, but the drive to adapt its technology in response to the pandemic shifted priorities toward infectious disease applications, including immune responses to vaccines and therapeutics. 

Because the T-Map technology can be used to identify specific T-cell receptors, such as those raised against viruses or bacteria, and to differentiate immune responses to viral peptides from responses to vaccine vector components, Adaptive aims to explore applications in vaccine and immunotherapy development. 

"We're leveraging [T-Map] data with pharma partners for target discovery efforts so we can identify more robust peptides that elicit a stronger T-cell response, which allows pharma companies to really home in on the peptides or antigens that should be included in a vaccine," Sanders said. 

The firm also plans to extend the utility of T-Map COVID to identifying individuals at risk of infection post-vaccination. 

"Essentially, we're looking at the key features specific to COVID-19 and looking for expansion of those [T cells] post-vaccine to see if then we can create a threshold that would identify any individuals still at risk of developing COVID-19," Sanders said. 

Benzeno added that the company hopes to have data available for this effort in the fall of this year. 

Adaptive currently collaborates with Nykode in one SARS-CoV-2 vaccine trial and is submitting a publication for peer review as part of a collaboration with another unnamed vaccine developer. 

Although Adaptive intends to commercialize all T-Detect assays as lab-developed tests, Benzeno said that the company is "opportunistically" open to seeking full FDA approval, based on partner goals. 

"If one of our pharma partners is interested in one of the indications being fully validated and available through an FDA path," Benzeno said, "we're certainly open to considering that." 

Dan Brennan, an analyst with Cowen, commented that Adaptive's strategy of forging numerous partnerships to explore and develop T-Map indications represents a methodical process geared toward long-term payouts. Nonetheless, he suggested that the company could be more transparent about some aspects of these partnerships. 

"They disclose the number of companies they are working with and give some color on the aggregate opportunity on milestones," but, he noted, "they haven't gone a level deeper where they would discuss within that, where are these pharma customers, what clinical stage are they at?" 

This level of granularity, he said, could help investors better think through when milestones might be achieved and what the impacts are of moving through clinical trial phases. 

Within the firm's minimal residual disease detection business for cancer diagnostics and monitoring, it sees continued opportunities within that space, with recent advances related to myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and acute lymphocytic leukemia. 

"The next big market opportunity for us," Benzeno said, "is [non-Hodgkin's lymphoma], so we're making investments there." 

The company is currently working to develop an MRD test for NHL, using circulating tumor DNA, which it plans to launch later this year in its CLIA laboratory, as announced in a Q1 investor call.