Kite and bluebird join forces with some cutting-edge cancer tech

Kite CEO Arie Belldegrun

Immuno-oncology innovator Kite Pharma ($KITE) is joining gene therapy luminary bluebird bio ($BLUE) to craft new treatments for HPV-related cancers, combining two high-profile technologies in hopes of developing targeted therapies.

Under the deal, Kite will bring its expertise in T cell receptor, or TCR, treatments, which rely on rewiring the body's immune cells to home in on cancers. And bluebird will provide its know-how in using harmless viruses to deliver corrective genes and its experience in gene editing. Combined, the partners hope to produce second-generation TCRs that use bluebird's genetic engineering platform to better attack their target cancers, particularly those related to a particular strain of HPV, or human papillomavirus.

The companies aren't disclosing financial details of the deal, saying only that they will share all R&D and commercial costs and split profits 50-50. Kite will lead the effort in the U.S., while bluebird will have the option to run things in Europe, and each company is eligible for co-promotion rights in the other's territory.

Kite is largely known for its work on CAR-T therapies, a cousin technology to TCR that has shown excellent early promise against blood cancers. In CAR-T, the California biotech is in a race with Novartis ($NVS) and Juno Therapeutics ($JUNO), planning to enter pivotal trials this year with its leading contender.

But less often discussed is Kite's TCR pipeline, which features 5 National Cancer Institute-partnered therapies in the early stages of development, and the company is pursuing both paths in tandem with the goal of churning out therapies for tumors liquid and solid.

As for bluebird, the biotech has made headlines around the world with its lead gene therapy, which has shown the potential to cure a rare blood disease. But the Cambridge, MA, company has long been working in CAR-T, as well, lending its technology to Celgene ($CELG) over the past few years in a wide-ranging blood cancer collaboration. Earlier this month, Celgene scaled back that partnership to cover just a single target, with bluebird regaining the rights to a handful of programs and maintaining some in-house CAR-T candidates.

Now, pairing off with Kite, bluebird is reaching into the world of TCR in an effort to "deliver game-changing T cell therapies to patients through great science and great capabilities," CEO Nick Leschly said in a statement.

- read the statement

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