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Pascal Touchon
Atara Biotherapeutics

22 February 2023

Can you provide an overview of Atara Bio and how it came to be?

Our goal is to develop transformative medicines for patients with cancer and autoimmune disease. Our experimental T-cell therapies are being developed to treat Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)-related conditions such as certain cancers and multiple sclerosis (MS). EBV infects more than 90% of the world's population; once infected, the virus remains in the body for life. Typically, the immune system fights the virus and keeps it under control, which is why most people do not experience symptoms. However, in some people, the virus can become uncontrollable, leading to these serious conditions I mentioned before.

How do you address these unmet needs through your work at Atara?

Cell therapy is the most effective way to boost the immune system in the case of cancer or modulate the immune system in the case of MS. Essentially, we are bringing transformed immune cells from healthy donors to patients in need, and we are harnessing the natural biology of T-cells to develop transformative therapies for patients with cancer and autoimmune conditions through this allogeneic T-cell immunotherapy.


We actually recently received the world's first approval for an allogenic T-cell therapy in Europe.


Can you tell me more about Atara's pipeline and how far the company has come in terms of research?

Our most advanced therapy is a potentially transformative treatment for patients with PTLD - an ultra-rare and aggressive hematologic cancer that occurs after transplantation when a patient's T-cell activity is compromised by immunosuppression. It can impact patients who have undergone solid-organ transplant or an allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation. We have had extremely encouraging data from an efficacy and safety point of view where a number of the patients that are responding to the treatment will then survive long term. 

The second very exciting innovation in our pipeline is ATA188, an off-the-shelf, allogeneic T-cell immunotherapy that aims to specifically target EBV-infected B cells and plasma cells for progressive forms of MS. This is a debilitating disease affecting millions, with limited treatment options. With ATA188, we are aiming to completely change the treatment paradigm of MS - by controlling the driver and targeting the EBV, we believe we can stop the progression of the disability and even improve it in some cases. In 2017, we initiated a Phase 1 trial - the objective was to assess the safety and clinical outcomes of ATA188 in patients followed for at least one year after the first dose. ATA188 is currently in a Phase 2 EMBOLD clinical study for the treatment of patients with PMS and has met target enrollment, with final data and communication expected in October 2023.

What is the next step for Atara moving forward?

The main goal is to advance our pipeline and get the medicine to patients. We will also need to focus on raising funds and attracting key talent to advance our research and products. We are very patient-focused, and we are developing a company culture in which all of our employees have the patient in mind. Last but not least, seeing our position as an industry trailblazer, we will need to collaborate with regulatory agencies to figure out how to move our innovations forward in a safe and quality-driven manner.

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