Kite, a Gilead Company, Looks to Expand Its Cell Therapy Maryland Operations

Maryland has become a key part of the strategy for Kite, a Gilead company, and its mission to find a cure for cancer.

Maryland has become a key part of the strategy for Kite, a Gilead company, and its mission to find a cure for cancer. As the California-based company focuses more and more on cutting-edge cell therapy research and manufacturing, Kite is expanding its toehold in the BioSpace Hotbed region known as BioCapital.

Kite first moved into Maryland in 2018 following the forging of 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.

Kite announced it leased a 26,000 square-foot facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which is just miles away from Bethesda, Maryland, home of the NCI. The Gaithersburg site is focused on research and clinical manufacturing of TCR-based, adoptive t-cell therapies for solid tumor cancers.

After two years, Kite has more than 60 employees in its Gaithersburg facility. More employees will be needed at the facility as Kite invests more money to expand the facility to support the solid tumor research.

Matthew Levy, Associate Director, Talent Acquisition with Kite told BioSpace in an interview that the work being accomplished at the Gaithersburg facility is exciting due to the cutting-edge technology. As the facility expands, Levy said Kite will continue to hire the best and brightest to help the company in its mission of curing cancer.

With Maryland’s rich life sciences ecosystem, one that includes multiple government agencies like NCI, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Levy said Kite will be able to draw on a highly skilled talent pool as it expands its headcount in Gaithersburg. Not only does Maryland have a strong pool of talent already in place, Levy said the state is a nice place to live and offers residents a lot of cultural and recreational amenities. Although Kite has not identified a target number of employees it will hire for the Gaithersburg site, Levy said the company is already hiring for a number of positions there and will be expanding further next year.

Gaithersburg isn’t the only site Kite has in the state of Maryland. In 2019, the company announced it will build a third cell therapy manufacturing facility to support the company’s CAR-T manufacturing needs. Kite selected Frederick, Maryland in addition to its two other facilities in California and The Netherlands. “This will enable us to meet the future needs for cell therapies,” Levy said.

Following the FDA-approval of Yescarta, its CAR-T treatment for some blood cancers, Levy said the company realized that having additional capacity in manufacturing would be beneficial for the cutting-edge treatment. Logistically, Levy said it was beneficial to have a manufacturing facility on the East Coast of the United States. He noted that the individualized CAR-T treatment cannot be stockpiled like some other medications can and having the third facility better serves Kite’s patients.

In addition to the manufacture of Yescarta, which was approved in 2017 two months after Kite was acquired by Gilead Sciences for $12 billion, the Maryland facility will also be ready to produce future commercial cell therapies.

“We’re sparing no expense to bring the best science to bear for patients,” Levy said.

The 280,000 square-foot Frederick facility is expected to come online in 2022. The site is expected to employ a few hundred people over the next several years and Levy said the company is actively recruiting for positions there. Types of positions the company is recruiting for include manufacturing, facilities and engineering, supply chain and quality.

When it comes to potential candidates, Levy said the company is looking for candidates who are patient-centric in their work. Ideal candidates will be passionate about using their technical skills to benefit cancer patients. Levy stressed a strong sense of connectivity between the work performed at Kite and the patients the company serves. For example, Cell Therapy Specialists – Kite’s manufacturing technicians – literally hold patients’ cells in their hands; that personalized approach drives home the point that patients are at the center of everything the company does, Levy noted.

“If someone is looking for an opportunity to positively impact cancer patients through cutting-edge work in cell therapy, Kite is a great place to be,” Levy said. “We really mean it when we say that cancer is personal to us.”