Amgen, Kite partner their hot CAR-T and IO tech in blockbuster cancer pact

Amgen has found a CAR-T development partner. The Big Biotech is partnering up with Kite Pharma on new drugs that use Kite's chimeric antigen receptor tech, which turns T cells in the immune system into cancer-cell attack weapons. And they're both putting up some major milestone cash to fuel the work.

In this deal Amgen ($AMGN) is paying $60 million upfront and covering early-stage development costs at Kite ($KITE), which in turn will go after a number of Amgen's cancer targets using the Big Biotech's immuno-oncology tech and targets. Once past the initial IND stage, each of the companies will be responsible for the drug candidates that they select from the deal--with Amgen adding up to $525 million in milestones for each successful program and Kite doing the same for Amgen.

Late last year Kite rival Juno Therapeutics ($JUNO) saw its IPO take off in one of the hottest new offerings of 2014 as investors proved keen to gamble on the prospects of a new technology that has shown tremendous potential in early cancer studies. CAR-T is related to new immuno-oncology technology that promises to unleash the human immune system in a coordinated attack on cancer. And pioneers in the field are already planning a quick march to the FDA with their initial applications.

Amgen has focused heavily on new cancer therapies, with a spotlight on the late-stage development of its cancer vaccine T-Vec, which has had mixed results in the clinic. Amgen and Merck ($MRK) recently launched a study combining the immunotherapy with Merck's PD-1-blocking Keytruda, which was approved last year for melanoma and is currently in a slate of IO studies both as a solo treatment and combo drug. Amgen also recently snagged an approval for Blincyto (blinatumomab), an antibody developed through the bispecific T cell engager (BiTE) system which is designed to direct immune cells to attack cancer.

Kite shares jumped 4% this morning while Amgen stock was down about 2%.

Sean Harper

"The intersection of immunology and oncology represents one of the most promising approaches to delivering significant impact for patients with cancer," said Sean E. Harper, M.D., executive vice president of R&D at Amgen. "With our existing immuno-oncology portfolio of cutting-edge technologies and expertise, we believe joining forces with Kite Pharma will leverage our targets and their leading CAR T cell platform to advance another new promising therapeutic approach to fight cancer."

- here's the release

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