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Amgen, Kite Pharma Partner on Personal Cancer Immunotherapy

T Cell, in blue, a key component in the body's immune system (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab)

T Cell, in blue, a key component in the body’s immune system (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab)

5 January 2014. The biotechnology companies Amgen and Kite Pharma are developing personalized cancer treatments harnessing the immune system in a deal combining Amgen’s targets with Kite Pharma’s cell therapies. The agreement is expected to bring up to $525 million in milestone payments plus sales royalties to each company, as well as an upfront payment from Amgen to Kite.

Kite Pharma, in Santa Monica, California, develops personalized cancer therapies based on the patient’s own T cells, white blood cells that the immune system uses to fight invading pathogens. The company, founded in 2009 by UCLA urologist and cancer specialist Arie Belldegrun, is based on a technology that alters a patient’s T cells to attack the the cancer. Belldegrun is now Kite’s CEO and board chair.

In Kite’s technology, T cells are genetically engineered to produce special receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors that attract an antigen — a protein generating antibodies — fighting the cancer. The engineered T cells are then grown in the lab in large quantities and infused back into the patient, where they attract the antigen proteins and fight the cancer. Early clinical trials of this technique, says National Cancer Institute, show the technique has promise against advanced blood-related cancers, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Under the deal, Amgen, in Thousand Oaks, California, will provide cancer targets from its R&D labs used to develop the company’s biologics and small molecule drugs, with Kite Pharma conducting all preclinical research and cell manufacturing leading up to a new drug application with regulators. Each company will then design its own chimeric antigen receptor products and be responsible for clinical testing and commercialization of those products.

The deal calls for Amgen to license Kite Pharma’s chimeric antigen receptor technology, for which Kite receives an initial $60 million. Amgen also will cover Kite’s R&D costs leading to filing of the new drug application.

At that point, each company becomes eligible for payments based on completion of the partner’s regulatory and commercialization milestones. Kite Pharma can receive up to $525 million in payments from Amgen based on progress made by Amgen, with Amgen eligible for an equal $525 million from Kite Pharma based on Kite’s progress. Each company can also receive royalties on subsequent sales of products developed under the agreement, although royalties are weighted in Kite’s favor.

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