Kite Pharma, bluebird bio Ink Deal to Zero In on HPV-Linked Cancer

Kite Pharma, bluebird bio Ink Deal to Zero In on HPV-Linked Cancer
June 22, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

Shares of closely-watched gene therapy company bluebird bio are up in morning trading Monday, after the company said it had an inked a collaboration pact with fellow upstart drugmaker Kite Pharma, Inc. to develop T-cell therapies to treat cancer linked to Human papilloma virus (HPV).

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Kite said it would discuss the transaction at its upcoming Investor Day on June 23, which will be webcast.

"This partnership is a natural fit with our mission to develop and deliver novel immunotherapies for cancer patients, and collaborating globally with Bluebird Bio will allow us to benefit from the strengths and capabilities of both companies in immuno-oncology,” said Arie Belldegrun, Kite's chairman, president and chief executive officer in a statement.

“Through this collaboration, we will have access to our partner's strong science expertise and enabling technologies to further enhance one of our key TCR programs and to evaluate gene editing technology in the context of T cell therapy."

The news had investors sitting up and taking noticed because T-cell receptors (TCRs) have shown promise at boosting the body’s immune systems to zero in on and kill cancer cells. They belong to a class of compounds which instead of modifying cells to eliminate cancer from within, like CAR-T cells, use a type of experimental immuno-oncology to identify cancer cells and kill them directly.

TCR technology is so new that little data exists on it. But pre-clinical studies have been promising enough for cutting-edge gene therapy companies like Kite, Bluebird and Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics to bet on the technology, raising Wall Street’s hopes that there could be another vanguard in the increasingly lucrative fight against cancer.

A report from GBI Research in March found that HPV vaccines alone are forecasted to bring in $2.2 billion in the next three years, a market that could balloon if effective treatments for HPV-related cancer can be found.

“As we continue to build a differentiated immuno-oncology portfolio, we are delighted to partner with Kite in a collaboration that combines their leadership in T cell-based immunotherapies with our expertise in gene editing and industry-leading lentiviral vector platform,” said Nick Leschly, chief executive of Bluebird. “We believe partnering with Kite will allow us to deliver game-changing T cell therapies to patients through great science and great capabilities.”

Bluebird has had an interesting spring, leaping more than 15 percent in May after it released an abstract of data that shows its sickle cell anemia drug, LentiGlobin, has kept two patients transfusion free for 14 and 11 months, respectively.

Bluebird released the data from a February test as part of an abstract it presented last week at the European Hematology Association (EHA) in Vienna, Austria.

On Feb. 2, 2015, Bluebird announced that the FDA had granted LentiGlobin BB305 Breakthrough Therapy designation, which is used to expedite the development and review of a potential drug candidate that is expected to be used to treat a serious or life-threatening diseases.

In the case of LentiGlobin BB305, initial data last fall from an ongoing Phase I/II Northstar (HGB-204) and HGB-205 studies looked at eight patients with beta-thalassemia that were treated with LentiGlobin. In the first four patients, treatment resulted in sufficient hemoglobin production to decrease the need for transfusion support among the patients.

That news sent shares of the company up 70 percent the day it was announced, as the market looked eagerly for signs that Bluebird’s LentiGlobin BB305 could be a panacea for blood diseases.

“The early data included in our abstract provide further validation for our approach and important insights into the safety and mechanism of action of LentiGlobin in both beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease,” said David Davidson, chief medical officer for Bluebird.

“As noted in the abstract, we are pleased to report that the two patients with beta-thalassemia major, on whom we first reported last year at EHA, remained transfusion independent at 14 and 11 months post-transplant,” he said. “In addition, it is very encouraging that the patient with sickle cell disease is increasing production of HbAT87Q, which has anti-sickling properties, and has not had a post-treatment hospitalization for a sickle cell disease-related event. At EHA we will present further follow up data on all three subjects.”

That news had both analysts and Wall Street investors cheering, because it shows LentiGlobin is on track.

“Our recent deep dive on LentiGlobin combined with this update keep us confident that BLUE is on the cusp of a dramatic breakthrough for many sickle cell disease patients and we await further updates,” wrote Joshua Schimmer, a biotech analyst for Piper Jaffray, in a note to investors.

As Rumors Swirl About GlaxoSmithKline Bid, Who Could Suitors Be?
Rumors are swirling that Swiss-based Roche and U.S.-based Johnson & Johnson are eying the U.K. company for approximately $143 billion. But Roche and J&J aren’t the only companies though who have been thought could go after the elephant that is Glaxo.

Last month there was buzz that Pfizer Inc. was considering acquiring Glaxo, a year after it failed to acquire AstraZeneca PLC . Just this month over a third of respondents in a poll conducted by BioSpace believe that AstraZeneca PLC could be in the running to acquire struggling GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

So BioSpace wants to ask our readers again what they predict for this new dealmaking bonanza. Will Glaxo go—and if so, to whom?

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