Gilead makes bolt-on CAR-T buy after Kite deal

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The latest acquisition will be used toward next-gen versions of CAR-T therapy.

After its $12 billion buyout of Kite this year for its new class of immuno-oncology therapy, Gilead has made a much smaller bolt-on acquisition of Cell Design with an eye to the future of CAR-T.

The buy, costing $567 million all told (using biobucks and including the shares of Cell Design Labs already held by Kite), will go towards building the next-gen CAR-T programs to boost what Kite has already created.

RELATED: Move over, Novartis: Kite and Gilead break into CAR-T market with early axi-cel nod

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Cell Design is mainly about the tech that centers on synNotch, which requires two antigens instead of just one, to activate the CAR cells, and so-called throttle technologies, which uses a small molecule as a switch to turn on and off the CAR-T.

It also has two quiet preclinical candidates for prostate cancer and liver cancer using the tech, as well as another very early candidate for multiple myeloma.

In a note to clients, analysts at Jefferies said: “We are positive on the demonstrated investment to CAR-T and believe this is a 'long-term' investment to build a cancer cell therapy platform over the next five years.”

The firm said the big picture is that Gilead is a building platform for long-term investment. “This is a relatively small, tuck-in acquisition to add technology to build on the Kite CAR-T platform. This is also not a huge surprise given Kite already had a collaboration with Cell Design from June 2016 based on Kite’s strategy to already build precision-controlled CAR products that can be turned ‘on or off’.”

It added that investors “should expect (and we predict) that Gilead will look to integrate ‘gene-editing’ either through partnership or acquisition as a next likely piece needed as well, which could fine tune and control the T-cells from all angles.” They pointed to the work Cellectis and Sangamo Therapeutics are doing in this space as examples.