Kite Pharma doubles down on crucial NCI partnership, expands work on CAR-T/TCRs

When the CAR-T/TCR player Kite Pharma barreled ahead with an upsized $128 million IPO last summer, the biotech's allure rested considerably on a research and development deal--or CRADA--that it had struck with some key researchers at the National Cancer Institute. Today, Kite ($KITE) took that relationship one step further, expanding the CRADA to cover additional programs and targeting tools needed to beef up its pipeline during a critical stage of development for this hotly competitive niche in the cancer arena.

In specific, a research group at the NCI will work with Kite on exploring the way the immune system reacts to the neo-antigens produced by tumors as genetic mutations multiply. And they'll be tailoring new T cell receptor (TCR) and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) product candidates targeting some added solid tumors along the way. If that sounds a little vague, it's because the biotechs in this space like to talk about new programs without going into too much detail for the growing number of competitors in this field.

NCI's Steven Rosenberg

In its SEC filing, Kite--which saw its share price climb slightly this morning--also noted that it's tripling its quarterly payments to the NCI in the process of expanding the research relationship, which revolved considerably around the company's relationship with Steven Rosenberg and his team at the NCI. Quarterly payments will now jump from $250,000 to $750,000.

Kite CEO Arie Belldegrun

"Neo-antigen immunotherapy will allow us to design a cancer treatment that can modify a patient's T cells to recognize the unique genetic profile of the patient's own tumor. This offers a new paradigm in cancer care and extends the significant progress we have achieved in collaboration with Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery, and his clinical research teams at the NCI," said Kite CEO Arie Belldegrun, who rarely misses a chance to highlight the close working relationship he has with the NCI group.

Kite's market cap has swelled to close to $2.7 billion as investors flocked to get in early on this new personalized approach to reengineering T cells into cancer fighters. CAR-T relies on equipping T cells with chimeric antigen receptors, an approach that has made Juno and others famous in the oncology field. Paris-based Cellectis, which has taken a next-gen allogeneic approach to developing off-the-shelf CAR-T therapies with Pfizer ($PFE), recently filed its own IPO looking to expand on its in-house work in the field.

"This year, we have substantially broadened our plan and vision for clinical development, engaging in a strategic R&D collaboration with Amgen, combining their cancer targets with our T cell platform technology, as well as expanding our agreement with Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center to develop novel approaches to CAR T cell therapy," says Kite CMO David Chang. "The new research under our CRADA with the NCI further extends our clinical programs, particularly in regard to new TCR approaches."

- here's the release
- here's the SEC filing