‘It’s amazing to think about the opportunity we create at Kite, at this moment, with other colleagues in the T-CAR field where we see patients who have no options – refractory tumour patients where a doctor tells them we cannot do anything else for you. We can come in with a new therapy.’ – Markwin Velders, Vice President of Operations of Kite Pharma discusses the use of CAR-T therapy as a revolutionary treatment for populations of patients who were previously untreatable.
The word ‘breakthrough’ when used to describe cancer treatment often denotes a positive development, and Markwin Velders of Kite Pharma is confident in using it to describe the use of CAR-T therapy in cancer patients. He speaks of ‘patient populations’, such as those with non-Hodgkinson Lymphoma, which can ‘now be treated effectively and can even reach 60-70% remission’, a group ‘who never had that option before.’ He describes it as ‘an unmet medical need where we make a difference’, which offers a hopeful insight into the progress Kite Pharma are currently making in the field.
Velders highlights the current status that the use of T-Cell Immunotherapies as a successful treatment of haematological, or liquid tumours is currently at. He draws upon the successful results Kite Pharma have seen treating this demographic of illness. However, it is in the much ‘wider field’ of solid tumours that he feels they should be looking to make progress, and improve on current therapies. Solid tumours make up the largest number of cancer sufferers, and Kite Pharma hope to ‘embark on the next phases’ for treating these ‘which is where there are real chances for the therapy as well as other opportunities.’
In terms of the public opinion towards cell therapy, Velders describes it as a ‘double-edged sword’ as often people met with experiences of being charged ‘large amounts of money’ for ‘therapies which aren’t very effective.’ He understands that this can often give the industry an unfavourable image, but notes ‘it is important and…I think generally people look at it as a pretty advanced field. It has a lot of opportunity, but it comes at a cost.’ If this is understood, and people continue to look towards ‘these new therapeutic routes and medicines’, it will expand the possibility of using cell therapies as viable treatment options for cancer patients.
Velders also offers advice to biotech start-ups seeking to take T-Cell Immunotherapies to market, and stresses the need for finding ‘something that can make the difference, and try to get a reliable investor’. He suggests, as he did for altering public opinion, to look forward ‘to the next level of therapeutic approaches’, but underlines the importance of having a reliable platform of scientific expertise.
It with this he draws upon his own experiences at Kite with the ZUMA-1 Phase 2 trial. Kite have been met with a response rate of up to 70% in patients with Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma. He says of their findings:
‘About 50% of the patients have a complete response, that’s a durable response in 40% of the patients after 3 months. We’re hoping to get data out in Q1 2017 to really confirm these responses and to see that they are long lasting responses in this population.’
The positive results they have seen so far provide a hopeful platform on which Kite Pharma can build an effective cell therapy model.
Watch the full interview with Markwin Velders, filmed at Cell Therapy Manufacturing & Gene Therapy Congress, above or here.