Gilead Sciences is buying Kite Pharma in a deal worth $11.9 billion, securing itself access to the latter’s experimental CAR-T therapy axicabtagene ciloleucel and wider cancer pipeline.

The companies said the transaction, under which Gilead will pay $180 per share in cash to acquire Kite, has been approved by both boards of directors.

According to Gilead, the move will provide opportunities for “diversification of revenues”, and it is expected to be neutral to earnings by year three and accretive thereafter.

Kite’s most advanced therapy candidate is the closely watched CAR-T therapy axicabtagene ciloleucel (axi-cel), which is currently under priority review by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Approval of the highly-personalised therapy - which involves drawing T cells from a patient's blood and reprogramming them in the lab to create T cells genetically coded to hunt the patient's cancer cells - as a treatment for refractory aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is expected sometime in the fourth quarter, making it the first CAR-T available for that particular indication.

Novartis’ CTL109 (tisagenlecleucel) is likely to become the first CAR-T approved in the country having been the first to be filed with US regulators, but for a different patient group as it targets B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Axi-cel was, however, the first CAR-T to be filed in Europe, where it is also currently under review for NHL, with approval anticipated sometime next year.

Kite has additional candidates in clinical trials in both haematologic cancers and solid tumours, including KITE-585, an experimental CAR-T therapy that targets BCMA expressed in multiple myeloma.

“The acquisition of Kite establishes Gilead as a leader in cellular therapy and provides a foundation from which to drive continued innovation for people with advanced cancers,” said John F Milligan, PhD, the firm’s president and chief executive, explaining his firm’s interest in the deal.

“The field of cell therapy has advanced very quickly, to the point where the science and technology have opened a clear path toward a potential cure for patients. We are greatly impressed with the Kite team and what they have accomplished, and share their belief that cell therapy will be the cornerstone of treating cancer.”