Gilead just bought a cancer immunotherapy company for $12 billion

Gilead is acquiring cancer immunotherapy biotech Kite Pharma for $US11.9 billion.

Gilead, known for its HIV and hepatitis C drugs, has been growing a cash pile over the past few years since the approval of its hepatitis C drug, leading investors to speculate what company it might buy. Gilead’s purchase of Kite is the first big deal the company’s had since.

Kite’s shares were up 29% on the news before markets opened on Monday.

Kite has been one of the companies leading development for a new form of highly personalised cancer treatment is called CAR T-cell therapy. It’s a type of cancer immunotherapy — or a therapy that harnesses the body’s immune system to take on cancer cells.

Short for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, CAR-T treatment takes a person’s own cells, removes them from the body, re-engineers them, and then puts the cells back in the body where they can attack cancer cells. In July, an FDA panel voted in favour of approving one of these treatments made by Novartis. One of the panelists called it “most exciting thing I’ve seen in my lifetime.” That therapy, a treatment for pediatric acute lymphoblastic lymphoblastic leukemia, is expected to get a decision from the FDA by October.

One month later, in November, Kite is expected to get an answer from the FDA regarding its CAR-T treatment for a type of blood cancer called aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In data Kite released in February, the company found that out of the 101 patients, 36% had a complete response to the treatment after six months.

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