Kite Pharma taps Mitch Gold's upstart Alpine for T-cell immuno-tech

Kite CEO Arie Belldegrun

Three years after Mitch Gold moved on from a staggering Dendreon, the high-profile biotech exec has launched a new biotech which today is teaming up with CAR-T leader Kite Pharma in developing new immuno-oncology drugs.

Kite's deal with the fledgling Alpine Immune Sciences, which is based in Seattle, starts small but has the potential to deliver some big returns if the biotech's T-cell insights prove helpful in developing immunotherapies. Kite ($KITE) CEO Arie Belldegrun is paying $5 million initially to kick off the partnership, adding in up to $530 million in milestones based on development and sales markers.

The big idea at Alpine is centered on exploiting what it calls the "immune synapse," the communications link between T cells which are dispatched by the immune system to attack invaders in the body. This nerve center could play a key role in mounting a well regulated attack on cancer cells. And Kite wants to use the technology as it develops new CAR-T and TCR treatments, engineering T cells into attack vehicles in the fight against cancer.

Mitch Gold

Gold seeded the new biotech out of his own venture group, part of his second act in biotech after Dendreon collapsed, the victim of too much spending and too little efficacy for its pioneering personalized immunotherapy Provenge. Provenge was an historic breakthrough, but Dendreon collapsed in bankruptcy--Valeant ($VRX) wound up buying Provenge--and the therapy is used today more as a cautionary tale and a comparison against what the field is capable of accomplishing.

"At AIS, we have a robust discovery platform to identify molecules capable of directly modulating the immune synapse," says Gold in a statement. "We look forward to working with Kite, a company that uniquely understands the complexities surrounding cancer biology."

- here's the release