CART therapy, stands for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, is where a patient’s white blood cells are genetically engineered to attack cancer.
For 85% of kids with a terrible cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chemotherapy is a cure, unfortunately for 15% chemotherapy useless.
Novartis announced, this month, that 36 of 39 children with acute lymphocytic leukemia that had failed standard treatments saw their disease disappear completely and 25 remained cancer free after 6 months.
A set of competing programs from Juno Therapeutics have Wall Street excited. New week, Juno will offer 9.3 million shares at a range of $15 to $18, raising as much as $191 million. The company will sport a market capitalization of at least $1.4 billion.
In addition, Kite Pharmaceuticals, the only publically traded CART Company has seen its shares trade up 80% since it raised $128 million in June IPO.
There are still hurdles ahead; Novartis has to run clinical trials in both kids and adults at hospitals around the world. Novartis forecasts all that work will be done by 2016, when it files with the FDA
In CART therapy the immune cells are removed from the patient’s body and a genetically engineered receptor is added that teaches the cells to kill cancer cells. Then the cells are infused back in, often causing severe and sometimes deadly side effects as the body’s immune system goes into overdrive.
Currently, the positive results are all from CARTs that are designed to kill B cells expressing CD19, which are the cells that go wrong in many types of cancer. Patients can live without B cells, but to take on other cancers, the CARTs are going to need to stop killing at some point, or kill only cancer cells.
Although the therapy is complicated and cumbersome, doctors, patients and the health care industry are excited about what the future holds for CART therapy.