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Interview - Despite The Many Unknowns Celgene Banks On CAR-T Take-Off

Celgene (NASDAQ:CELG) is one of only two major drug companies to make a big commitment to CAR-T, and its executives speak bullishly of the space. Then again they would do, since they have a huge investment to justify: a 10-year collaboration with Juno that cost $1bn up front.

In the next couple of years the US biotech will look to put more money where its mouth is, as decisions on manufacturing investments approach. “At the very start… we said we wanted to see at least two truly breakthrough therapies come out of this collaboration,” George Golumbeski, head of business development and alliance management, told EP Vantage, adding that these would likely come from solid tumour targets beyond the low-hanging fruit of the CD19 antigen.

It is the anti-CD19 CAR-T assets that are the most advanced in Juno's pipeline; the group expects data later this year from the Rocket trial of JCAR015 in adults with acute lymphocytic leukaemia that could form the basis of US approval. Celgene bought ex-US and China rights to this and Juno's other CD19 targeting programs last week.

Mr. Golumbeski said the CD19 option would likely be the first of many steps forward with the collaboration, which was only forged last June (Celgene goes for broke, June 30, 2015).

Solid tumors

“As excited as we are about the option, this is a CD19 construct; there are competing constructs, and it’s going into B-cell disease where we have a lot of good medical treatments," he said. "Our aspiration is to see this collaboration produce drugs that can be dramatically effective and possibly curative in certain tumour states where there are no good treatments, including solid tumours."

And he made no secret of just how ambitious Celgene is: "If one of these...