Without a doubt, the cell therapy industry is coming of age. In addition to growing numbers of cell therapy clinical trials, numerous cell therapy products have been approved by regulatory agencies worldwide and 150+ cell therapy companies are competing within the global marketplace. These metrics are extremely important, because they indicate that the market for cell therapy products is expanding.
However, one of the most telling trends within the industry is a growing interest among “big pharma” in cell therapy companies.
At its core, this is a strategic way for pharmaceutical companies to diversity their product development pipeline.
At first the trend was subtle, but the tide has swelled as CAR-T therapies have reached the marketplace and created a “craze” for promising CAR-T product candidates.
Gilead Sciences received approval for Yescarta in October 2017 as a result of its Kite Pharma acquisition for $11.9B. More recently, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $350 million to partner with Chinese firm Nanjing Legend Biotech after the company released promising CAR-T data at the ASCO annual meeting. Gilead is also acquiring Cell Design Labs, a biotech company developing novel CAR-T and T cell receptor therapies in a deal valued at up to $567 million.
Other deal-making in this space includes bluebird bio’s broad strategic collaboration with Celgene Corporation to commercialize CAR T-cell programs and Pfizer’s CAR-T collaboration with Cellectis that was accompanied by $80 million upfront payment and up to $185 million per product with royalties.
Additionally, Bellicum Pharmaceuticals and Agensys, an affiliate of Astellas Pharma, have a global license agreement that allows Bellicum to commercialize adoptive cell therapies, including CAR-T cells, for tumors expressing Prostate Stem Cell Antigen (PSCA).
Of course, there have also been more than a dozen CAR-T deals between pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions, with the best known being the partnership between Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). In August 2017, the U.S. FDA announced that Kymriah™ would be the first CAR-T cell therapy to be approved in the U.S., an accomplishment that resulted from a 5-year collaboration between UPenn and Novartis.
However, this deal-making isn’t limited to CAR-T cell therapy deals. A full review of “big pharma” investment into cell therapy companies is explored below. [Read more…]