Kite Pharma, one of the hottest biotech start-ups on Wall Street, hopes to revolutionize the treatment of a common, deadly lymphatic cancer — with a novel mix of highly trained lab techs and high-speed air travel.
The Santa Monica company’s treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma reprograms a patient’s T-cells — the kind that are supposed to fight disease — to seek and destroy only abnormal, cancerous lymph cells, not the healthy ones crucial for human life.
But in order to do so, blood must be drawn from a patient, refrigerated and flown to Kite’s headquarters, where the cells are modified, frozen and then flown back to doctors who re-inject them into patients.
Dr. Arie Belldegrun, Kite’s founder and chief executive, likens the two-week process to installing a navigation system in a car.
“The GPS will lead you to the cancer cell, and not the normal cell, and selectively kill only the cancer cell,” Belldegrun said.
Although it could be a year or longer before the FDA approves its treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the clinical results are so promising that Kite has forged ahead with constructing a 44,000-square-foot facility that would become its cancer-fighting nerve center.
It’s going up in El Segundo, better known for its cluster of aerospace companies, because the city is right next to Los Angeles International Airport, making it faster and easier in traffic-clogged L.A. to ship and receive T-cell specimens.
“We have seen tumors that originally failed every possible known treatment disappearing within weeks from the infusion,” Belldegrun said. “Tumors were melting away.”
In addition to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Kite plans to use T-cell modification to treat leukemia and many other types of cancer.
(Click here to read the full article, written by Stuart Pfeifer, LA Times)