The buzzworthy but still experimental blood-cancer therapies known as CAR-T being developed by Juno Therapeutics (JUNO) , Kite Pharma (KITE) and Novartis (NVS - Get Report) are all personalized for individual patients. They're complicated, time consuming and expensive to manufacture.
And now, possibly, obsolete.
On Thursday, investors got the first peek at patient data from an off-the-shelf CAR-T from French drug company Cellectis (CLLS - Get Report) . The results are impressive but super preliminary. An 11-month-old girl with a form of treatment-resistant leukemia was put into remission by doctors using Cellectis' "universal" CAR-T, known as UCART19, under an emergency, compassionate-use protocol.
These are data from a single patient, so it's not much more than an anecdote. The follow-up is also so short that it's impossible to say if the remission induced by Cellectis' off-the-shelf CAR-T will be durable.
Still, the new data, anecdote or whatever you want to call it, is intriguing because it provides a possible answer to one of the major concerns with cellular cancer therapies: How do you turn transformative science into a viable business?
Next year, Novartis, Juno and Kite Pharma are all expected to seek regulatory approvals for their first CAR-Ts in relatively rare forms of blood cancer. If approved, they will face the challenge of producing these individualized therapies for each patient who needs them. The price of the CAR-T therapies and their manufacturing costs will be closely scrutinized to see if the businesses can scale and be profitable.
Dendreon tried something similar with a personalized prostate cancer vaccine but ended in bankruptcy. Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) (Yes, that Valeant!) later bought Dendreon's assets in a fire sale. Some of the executives responsible for the Dendreon failure now run Juno.
It's way too early to declare Cellectis' technology the thing that kills Juno, Kite and Novartis' therapies before they even get off the ground. But you can bet that all three companies are probably looking over their shoulder just a little bit.The Cellectis UCART19 data can be found in this research abstract released today for the American Society of Hematology annual meeting.