Gilead Sciences Buys Kite Pharma For $11.9 Billion: New Lymphoma Cancer Treatment In Works

Biopharmaceutical leader Gilead Sciences will buy Kite Pharma, Inc. for $11.9 billion later this year, both companies announced Monday. Gilead is the maker of biopharma drugs like Tamiflu®, Harvoni®, and others regarded as market-leading HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C treatments. The sale indicates that Kite Pharma’s innovative cancer treatment is likely to be approved for use by patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2017.

The acquisition expands Gilead’s ability to develop cancer treatments, a renewed direction for the pharma industry leader. Kite Pharma’s cell therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma is under review by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The treatment, called CAR T-cell therapy, enables a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., accounting for more than 4 percent of new cases each year.

In 2015, the Los Angeles Times referred to Kite Pharma as “one of the hottest biotech start-ups on Wall Street.” The company develops biotech therapies and treatments, not pills. In the case of CAR T-cell therapy, lymphoma patients’ blood is withdrawn, quickly frozen, then sent to the company’s Southern California headquarters. Technicians modify the patient’s own T-cells to specifically target lymphoma cancer cells. The modified blood is flown back to the patient’s physician, who then injects it back into the patient.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the cancer that Spartacus: Blood and Sand actor Andy Whitfield died from in 2011. Whitfield was told he was cured two months after being diagnosed but succumbed to cancer after an 18-month battle.

Spartacus Star Andy Whitfield a Year Before His Death from Non Hodgkin Lymphoma
Spartacus Blood and Sand Actor Andy Whitfield in 2010 [Image by Karl Walter/Getty Images]

Kite Pharma’s therapy for adults with lymphoma, aka “axi-cel,” is expected to be one of two similar therapies approved for widespread use in 2017. Gilead and Kite Pharma’s joint press release projects that the FDA will set a target action date for CAR T therapy for refractory aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma by November 29, 2017. The companies also reported that the therapy will be approved in Europe in 2018.

Dr. David Maloney (l) of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center greets patient Ken Shefveland, whose lymphoma was successfully treated with CAR-T cell therapy. [Image by Elaine Thompson/AP Images]

A similar therapy for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia was approved by the U.S. FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee in July, its producer Novartis announced. About 25 percent of children under age 15 with blood cancer have this type of leukemia.

Kite Pharma was founded in 2009 by Dr. Arie Belledegrun. The company is headquartered in Santa Monica. Production is based in El Segundo. In February, Kite Pharma announced that over a third of 100 patients in a trial of CAR T therapy appeared free of lymphoma six months after receiving one treatment. Four out of five patients in the trial showed their cancer had been reduced by more than half during the study.

[Featured Image by juststock/Thinkstock]