Readers will surely recall the problems that surfaced last year with Juno’s (NASDAQ:JUNO) CAR-T cell therapy program. There were a number of patient deaths, and worried onlookers were wondering how their competitor, Kite Pharma (NASDAQ:KITE), was doing. Well, now there’s word that a patient in one of their trials has died from what’s described as multiple organ failure followed by cerebral edema (which is a combination that would certainly do it).
It would be safe to describe the state of mind today for researchers and investors in this area as “jumpy”. Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy is an extraordinary field, which has so far basically pulled some patients practically out of the grave. But the immune system is (1) extremely powerful, (2) not anywhere near being completely understood, and (3) quite variable from person to person. That last part might be the biggest barrier, because it looks like we’re going to need to have a better handle on how individuals will react to the engineered T cells. As it stands now, responses range from “This therapy will save your life when nothing else can” though “This therapy will slow down your cancer to an unpredictable degree” all the way to “This therapy will kill you, even faster than your cancer will”. One would want some clarity about which of this situations is most likely to result. KITE stock is down over 12% today as I write.
A related note: Doesn’t this sort of thing make you roll your eyes, even more, about all the hundreds of “nutritional supplements” that promise to Boost Your Immune System? Believe me, for most people, a boosted immune system is not what you’re looking for.