CAR-T player Kite Pharma buys its way into Europe and pads its anticancer arsenal

Kite Pharma ($KITE), a leader among companies in the fast-moving field of cancer immunotherapy, is expanding its arsenal of potential treatments and making European landfall with a biotech buyout.

The Santa Monica, CA, company is paying $21 million up front for T-Cell Factory B.V., a private Dutch outfit at work on T cell receptor (TCR) technology through which it rewires patients' immune systems to better combat cancer. T-Cell Factory's platform allows for the discovery and development of TCRs attuned to specific tumors, Kite said, and the Dutch outfit's work will fit in alongside the company's expansive collaboration with the National Cancer Institute in the same field.

Under the deal, T-Cell Factory will be rechristened Kite Pharma EU, and its shareholders are due undisclosed milestone payments tied to clinical, regulatory and sales goals for each resulting TCR project. Through the acquisition, Kite cuts in on some existing licensing agreements with the Netherlands Cancer Institute and other European R&D operations, and the biotech inherits relationships with European clinical manufacturing facilities that will allow it to hit the gas on continental development efforts.

"In addition to expanding our capabilities in TCR, this acquisition is an important first step in our goal of global clinical expansion outside the U.S., applying our leadership and in-house clinical expertise in both CAR and TCR therapies," Kite's head of R&D David Chang said in a statement. "We are pleased with the accelerating momentum of our programs and look forward to additional clinical, operational, and manufacturing progress and accomplishments this year."

Kite has thus made its name in CAR-T therapies, in which scientists remove T cells from a patient's blood and equip them with targeting mechanisms called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which seek out and bind to proteins expressed by cancer cells. Like its CAR-T rivals at Juno Therapeutics ($JUNO), Kite is pursuing TCR technology as a complementary approach to immuno-oncology in hopes of building a leading pipeline of such treatments.

Kite has a big year ahead, planning to launch three pivotal studies on the blood cancer-treating KTE-C19 in 2015, and the company has a stated goal of getting the therapy on the market by 2017. Behind its lead asset, Kite has a Phase I CAR-T candidate targeting brain cancer, plus a slew of early-stage TCR treatments for various tumors.

Last month, Kite leased two manufacturing facilities in its native Southern California to manufacture its pipeline therapies, following up on a blockbuster IPO with ambitious plans to contend with Novartis ($NVS), Celgene ($CELG) and a slew of larger competitors in the CAR-T space.

- read the release

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