Shares of Juno Therapeutics (JUNO) and Kite Pharma (KITE) are under pressure Tuesday after U.S. government researchers published a study showing that an off-the-shelf, engineered T-cell therapy could induce remissions in patients with advanced blood cancers.
The new "allogenic" T-cell cancer therapy study is small and far from conclusive, but its methods represent a competitive threat to Juno, Kite and Novartis (NVS) .
All three companies are pursuing the development of engineered T-cell cancer therapies, or CAR-Ts, which must be personalized for each patient. These "autologous" CAR-Ts are more complex and expensive to manufacture.
Juno and Kite shares are down 5% and 2%, respectively, in Tuesday trading based on the publication of the allogenic T-cell therapy study by Dr. James Kochenderfer and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
In the study, 20 patients with advanced B-cell cancers that had progressed despite a stem-cell transplant were treated with a single infusion of T cells which had been genetically engineered to target and kill a protein receptor, CD19, found on tumor cells. The T cells used to make the therapy were obtained from each patient's stem cell transplant donor.
Six of the 20 patients treated achieved a complete remission, and another two patients achieved a partial remission, according to the study's findings. Just as important, none of the patients treated with the T-cell therapy reported graft-versus-host disease, a serious and potentially fatal autoimmune side effect.
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 personalized CAR-T therapies and their manufacturing costs will be closely scrutinized to see if the businesses can scale and be profitable.
The new data published Tuesday suggest a simpler and less expensive approach to engineering T cells for cancer treatment might be just as effective and possibly safer. If this turns out to be true, the technology platforms upon which Juno and Kite were founded will be threatened.