Kite Taps Industry Vet to Lead Cell Therapy Research

Kite_AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Kite Pharma has tapped immunotherapy expert Francesco Marincola, a former National Institutes of Health investigator, to helm the company’s cell therapy research.

Marincola will be in charge of Kite’s research organization across hematological malignancies and solid tumors. Kite, a Gilead Sciences company, said Marincola will assume his new responsibilities on Feb. 1.

Marincola joins Kite from his most recent role as president and chief scientific officer of California-based Refuge Biotechnologies, where he led research into that company’s cell therapy programs developed with Refuge's receptor-dCas platform. Refuge’s pipeline is led by RB-1916, a CAR-T cell therapy designed to inhibit the expression of the PD-1 gene, with a potential initial application in diffused large B-cell lymphoma.

Kite is certainly no stranger to CAR-T. Kite is focused on chimeric antigen receptor and T cell receptor engineered cell therapies. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Yescarta, the second CAR-T treatment in the United States. The approval came two months after Kite was acquired by Gilead for $12 billion. Following the approval of Yescarta, Kite dove into cell therapy research.

In 2018, Kite forged a cell therapy-focused partnership with the National Cancer Institute to develop adoptive cell therapies targeting patient-specific tumor neoantigens, which are mutations found on the surface of cancer cells that are unique to each person and tumor. To support its continued research into cell therapies, Kite also scaled up its manufacturing efforts to support CAR-T development in the U.S. and Europe.

Earlier this month, Kite and Oxford BioTherapeutics entered into a research collaboration to evaluate five novel targets for a number of hematologic and solid tumor indications.

Kite Chief Executive Officer Christi Shaw said Marincola’s expertise in cell therapy will enable the company to discover and advance new life-saving therapies for patients in need. CAR-T therapy has proven to be successful in some hematological cancers and now researchers are scrambling to aim the potent anti-cancer therapy at solid tumors. Challenges in this area remain, and Marincola is expected to use his own expertise to push this research forward.

“Franco’s proven track record in oncology and robust research experience that spans the NIH to industry will be critical to the targeting and acceleration of our research efforts in CAR T and beyond,” Shaw said in a statement.

“It is an honor to bring my experience to an industry-leading team that is working to make cell therapies with curative intent available to patients,” Marincola said. “I look forward to helping build and diversify our research efforts in support of this mission.

In addition to his experience at Refuge, Marincola spent 23 years at the NIH, where he was tenured senior investigator in cancer immunotherapy and biomarker research. During his time at NIH, he spent 15 years as the Chief of the Infectious Disease and Immunogenetics Section at the NIH Clinical Center. Over the course of his career, Marincola also served as a distinguished research fellow in immune oncology discovery at AbbVie and as Chief Research Officer at Sidra Research in Doha, Qatar.

Marincola also served as president of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer and currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for several prominent peer-reviewed publications, including Journal of Translational MedicineTranslational Medicine Communications and Immunotherapy.

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