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Ex-Kite execs form a CAR T rival

Published on 04/04/18 at 08:19am

After working to bring through Kite Pharma from the pre-clinical development stage to its final $12 billion acquisition by Gilead, you would think that the men responsible would be enjoying the fruits of their labour; however, both Arie Belldegrun, former CEO of Kite, and David Chang, former CMO, are back in the game attempting to develop the next generation of CAR T.

The two men have licensed candidates from Pfizer, 17 CAR T prospects in total, and set up their own biotech, with financial backing to the tune of $300 million. This time round Chang will take on the position of CEO and Belldegrun will assume the position of Executive Chairman.

What is the angle for the new company? It could potentially bring through an allogeneic therapy to challenge the two autologous treatments currently on the market.

The major hope for an allogeneic treatment is that it could circumvent the laborious manufacturing process that encumbers the autologous route; an off-the-shelf CAR T therapy would reduce the price of any CAR T and also be much quicker to produce.

The Allogene team had been one of a number of bidders for Pfizer’s portfolio of the off-the-shelf candidates but the latter supported the former Kite’s leadership bids due to its experience bringing a CAR T treatment through to approval.

Pfizer, for its part, acquires a 25% ownership stake in Allogene – quite why Pfizer had been eager to pass on the opportunity that Kite’s former leadership team were so keen to pick up is unclear.

“The allogeneic CAR T platform represents a potentially transformative approach to treating cancer, and we are very excited about what the future may hold for this area of research,” said Robert Abraham, Senior Vice President and Group Head, Oncology Research & Development, Pfizer. “We believe that under the strong scientific, clinical development and regulatory expertise of Allogene’s leadership team, the portfolio of CAR T assets contributed by Pfizer will be well-positioned to rapidly advance into potential innovative new therapies, and ultimately to reach patients in need more quickly.”

In addition to Pfizer’s financial backing, Allogene will also receive a serious amount of acumen to go with it – 50 Pfizer investigators will also be included as part of the deal , to make up the new Allogene team.

The main focus will be to develop UCART19, the agreement’s lead candidate, which is currently in Phase 1 testing but will soon extend into Phase 2 studies during 2019. Allogene will have the exclusive rights to develop and commercialise the candidate in the US, while Servier will retain rights to ex-US territories.

“Last year, Kite’s anti-CD19 CAR T therapy became the first autologous CAR T treatment to be approved by the FDA for adult patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Many believed the idea was rooted in science fiction, but science fiction became a reality,” said Chang. “We believe that this partnership among leaders in the field – visionaries, industry forerunners, venture capitalists and researchers – has the potential to accelerate the development of allogeneic T cell therapy, making it a reality and forever changing how cancer is treated.”

Ben Hargreaves

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