Pfizer looks to cut the line in CAR-T with off-the-shelf approach

Pfizer CEO Ian Read

Pfizer ($PFE), breaking into the field of re-engineered T cells for cancer, believes its work with partner Cellectis ($CLLS) could eventually top the efforts of more advanced rivals including Novartis ($NVS).

The two companies are at work on so-called CAR-T therapies, taking the immune system's natural weapons and re-outfitting them to home in on cancer antigens.

Programs from Novartis, Juno Therapeutics ($JUNO) and Kite Pharma ($KITE), while farther along in the clinic, rely on harvesting a patients' own T cells prior to manufacturing. By contrast, Pfizer's Cellectis-discovered candidates use off-the-shelf T cells from health donors, a difference the company said could allow for faster, broader production once approved.

"None of the other companies have that capability," Pfizer CEO Ian Read said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, according to Reuters. "Therefore they could not go that route."

Novartis currently leads the way among CAR-T developers, amassing stellar data with its lead program in a range of blood cancers. Juno and Kite are not far behind, shuttling their T cell therapies into more and more trials in hopes of replicating early-stage remission rates of as high as 90% in some cancers.

Despite continued success in hematological malignancies, some of the early excitement around CAR-T has worn off as none of the companies has managed to chart a strong signal of efficacy in solid tumors. Each has laid out plans to do so, with Juno disclosing at J.P. Morgan that it will have four solid tumor studies up and running this year.

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