Gilead to lay off staff at cell therapy unit Kite

Gilead to lay off staff at cell therapy unit Kite

Dive Brief:

  • Gilead Sciences is laying off about 7% of employees at cell therapy unit Kite Pharma in a restructuring it said is meant to better align the division’s organization with areas of future growth.
  • About 90 new positions will be created as part of the changes, a spokesperson for Kite Pharma confirmed to BioPharma Dive, meaning the net impact is equivalent to around 5% of Kite’s workforce. Fierce Pharma earlier reported the news, citing a letter from Kite Pharma head Cindy Perettie that outlined a “refreshed business strategy.”
  • More than 4,000 people work at Kite, which developed and sells the CAR-T treatments Yescarta and Tecartus for certain leukemias and lymphomas.

Dive Insight:

Gilead acquired Kite Pharma in 2017 for nearly $12 billion in a major bet on cell therapy. The unit, which was eventually set up as a standalone division, formed the foundation of the California biotechnology company’s push into oncology, now a major part of its business.

Kite is a leading producer of CAR-T cell therapies, which involve the engineering of a patients’ own immune cells to better fight cancer. Yescarta was the unit’s first approved, and recently received an expanded clearance in the U.S. for earlier use treating lymphoma. Tecartus is OK’d in the U.S. for leukemia.

While sales were initially slow, they’ve steadily risen and totaled nearly $500 million in the third quarter between the two therapies. Both cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient, and involve a complex and lengthy treatment process.

Perettie, previously CEO of Roche’s Foundation Medicine, took charge of Kite in May after Christi Shaw stepped down from the role.

“While our business is performing well and we are making a meaningful impact for patients eligible for CAR T therapy, we believe there is a great deal of opportunity to continue to drive the adoption of our therapies,” the company said in its statement to BioPharma Dive.

News of the layoffs comes as the Food and Drug Administration is investigating reports of T cell malignancies in people who received CAR-T therapies like Yescarta. While the agency is considering “regulatory action,” it said “the overall benefits of these products continue to outweigh their potential risks for their approved uses.”

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