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Ziopharm, Intrexon enter new partnership to develop CAR-T therapies

ZIOPHARM Oncology Inc. said it has entered a new agreement with Intrexon Corp. to develop and commercialize certain cancer drug programs.

The agreement amends the companies' existing partnership and gives Ziopharm access to technology controlled by Precigen Inc., a unit of Intrexon, which it plans to use to advance its so-called controlled IL-12 and sleeping beauty T cell receptor platforms to develop treatments for solid tumors. Meanwhile, Intrexon will further establish Precigen as a therapeutics company concentrating on immuno-oncology, autoimmune and infectious disease therapies.

The new agreements will see Ziopharm retire all outstanding shares of its series 1 preferred stock held by Intrexon that are worth about $156.9 million. In addition, Randal Kirk, Intrexon's chairman and CEO, stepped down from the Ziopharm board after serving as a director since 2011.

Ziopharm said an existing agreement with the National Cancer Institute will also be transferred to the company.

The Boston-based drugmaker will now have full developmental control and exclusivity to utilize its platforms and will build on IL-12 using Precigen's RheoSwitch technology. It will use the sleeping beauty system to advance its existing chimeric antigen receptor T cell program while retaining rights to a second, unnamed CAR target.

Precigen gains exclusive rights for all other CAR-T therapies which involve infusing patients with lab-enhanced versions of their own cells to attack cancer. Both companies will also receive milestone payments and royalties on sales of commercialized therapies.

Ziopharm's CD19-specific CAR-T program for certain blood cancers was put on hold by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June after the regulator asked for additional information about the chemistry, manufacturing and controls of the therapy. Ziopharm said it expects to respond to the request in the second half of 2019.

"We now have focused the company on the two platforms to drive the most shareholder value and transitioned a significant portion of our CAR-T program to Precigen. The ability of both Ziopharm and Precigen to autonomously execute their respective operating plans on their independent platforms, while sharing in future economics, enables both parties to undertake more efficient 'divide and conquer' drug-development plans to the benefit of all constituents," Ziopharm CEO Laurence Cooper said in a statement.