Pfizer Takes On Gilead, Novartis With New Deal In Cancer Drugs
Early Tuesday, Pfizer said it entered into an alliance with privately held Allogene Therapeutics to develop advanced forms of chimeric antigen receptor T cell, or CAR-T, therapy. Pfizer will take a 25% stake in Allogene.
These therapies represent “a potentially transformative approach to treating cancer, and we are very excited about what the future may hold for this area of research,” Pfizer’s head of oncology research and development Robert Abraham said in a written statement.
During the regular session on the stock market today, Pfizer rose 1.8% to close at 35.68. Gilead ticked up 0.8% to 73.75. Novartis advanced 0.7% to 80.12.
Traditional CAR-T Approved
CAR-T therapies from Gilead and Novartis already are on the market. These drugs are created using a patient’s own extracted immune cells. Scientists reprogram a patient’s cells to fight cancer before returning them to the patient.
Pfizer and Allogene are aiming to create an allogeneic version of the treatment, which uses healthy donor cells. If successful, allogeneic CAR-T drugs would be less costly to produce than traditional CAR-T treatments.
Scientists remain split on whether the allogeneic approach will work. But that was also the case for traditional CAR-T therapies. Then, Gilead and Novartis grabbed approvals in several types of blood cancer, Allogene Chief Executive and President David Chang said.
“Many believed the idea of CAR-T therapy was rooted in science fiction, but science fiction has become a reality,” he said in a written statement.
A Team Of Rivals
Chang was Kite’s chief medical officer and headed up its research department. Gilead bought Kite last year just after U.S. regulators approved its drug, Yescarta, to treat an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Arie Belldegrun, Kite founder and former chief executive, also moved to Allogene where he will serve as executive chairman.
Pfizer will also keep its 8% stake in Cellectis (CLLS). The deal with Allogene will also allow Cellectis and Allogene to work together on allogeneic CAR-T. Cellectis is furthest along with an allogeneic approach, while Crispr Therapeutics (CRSP) is working on a rival.
French pharma group Servier is sponsoring two clinical tests of Pfizer and Cellectis’ partnered drug, UCART19. The drug is in Phase 1 studies as a potential treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. If approved, it would be an “off-the-shelf” form of CAR-T.
“The development of off-the-shelf, allogeneic CAR-T therapy in the field of oncology initiates a revolution that could potentially expand access of such innovative treatment to a larger number of oncologists and patients,” Servier President Olivier Laureau said in a prepared statement.