Roche to Explore Combination Cancer Therapy With Kite Pharma

Roche Holding AG will collaborate with Kite Pharma Inc. on a combination cancer therapy, a foray into the burgeoning field of custom-cell treatments for tumors that the Swiss drugmaker has expressed doubts about.

The companies will look into whether Roche’s atezolizumab is safe and effective when used with Kite’s KTE-C19 therapy in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that hasn’t responded to treatment, Kite said Thursday in a statement. Kite rose 2.6 percent to $45.26 at 1:41 p.m. in New York.

Atezolizumab, one of a class of cancer drugs that trigger the immune system to attack tumors, is an antibody designed to bind to the PD-L1 protein on tumor cells. KTE-C19 is an experimental therapy known as CAR-T in which a patient’s immune-system cells are genetically modified to fight cancer. Combining the two treatments could enhance and prolong the therapy’s activity, Kite said. A trial of the combination will begin this year, and both companies will fund it, according to a Roche spokeswoman.

Roche has expressed skepticism about CAR-T therapies, with its head of pharmaceuticals noting that many of the trials looking into them have occurred in very specialized treatment centers that many patients may not have access to. That hasn’t stopped other big pharma companies from plunging into tailored cell therapies, with Roche’s crosstown rival Novartis AG betting on the technology, and GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Pzifer Inc. signing deals in the arena. Juno Therapeutics Inc. inked a similar deal last year to test a combination of one of its CAR-Ts with Astrazeneca Plc’s PD-L1 blocker in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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