BioPharma, Pharma

Gilead maps out cellular therapy strategy with Kite acquisition

Gilead has been looking for ways to add to its portfolio beyond infectious-disease treatments especially in light of the company’s declining hepatitis C drugs sales, The Wall Street Journal observed.

T-cells attacking cancer cell illustration of microscopic photosT-cells attacking cancer cell illustration of microscopic photosGilead Sciences has made one of its largest deals to date with its nearly $12 billion Kite Pharma acquisition, a deal that reflects a major push into cellular therapy for the pharma company. Executives highlighted their thinking behind the deal on a conference call with analysts.

Gilead has been looking for ways to add to its portfolio beyond infectious-disease treatments especially in light of the company’s declining hepatitis C drugs sales, The Wall Street Journal observed.

Kite’s Axi-cel therapy uses chimeric antigen receptor (car) T-cell therapy, referred to as CAR-T therapy, was developed to treat aggressive non-Hodgkins lymphoma and is awaiting approval in the U.S. and Europe — a decision is expected sometime in the fourth quarter. But Gilead also sees applications for the therapy beyond lymphoma for other blood cancers.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Kite has worked closely with Dr. Steven Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research — the scientist who helped pioneer CAR-T therapies, Endpoints noted. It also observed that for Kite CEO Dr. Arie Belldegrun, the buyout marks the end of a major drive to create a company that could develop and market a personalized cell therapy.

John Milligan, Gilead CEO, indicated on a conference call with analysts about the Kite deal that the company would pivot to cellular therapy as its main strategy going forward.

“Cellular therapy will really be the cornerstone of what we are doing going forward,” Milligan said. “We are quite interested in things that would augment cellular therapy. We will take some time to look at our own portfolio and see what else we can do.”

Milligan added that with this deal, Gilead would lay the groundwork for a whole new set of products for decades to come.

Kevin Young, Gilead’s COO, pointed out that the Kite acquisition stands out from previous deals for Gilead because it was taking on “a phenomenal team”.

“I am a great believer that people build products,” Young said, “[Kite] has a tremendous setup and they are prepared for launch. We believe there is a team in place to launch axa-cell effectively… They are really going to give us the resources and capabilities and all the expertise and that is a bit different from what we have.”

Milligan observed that 2017 has been a transformative year for CAR-T therapy and that manufacturing on an industrial scale for this therapy would work.

“All of these things lined up to convince us that now is the right time to get involved in this kind of therapy.”

Photo: royaltystockphoto, Getty Images