Kite Pharma: Where Global Health and Sustainability Align

Kite Pharma: Where Global Health and Sustainability Align

Cindy Perettie and Chris McDonald Outline Kite’s Journey to World-class Lymphoma Treatment and Sustainable, Fast-paced Manufacturing and Delivery

Gilead’s vision is to create a healthier world for all people, a vision that necessarily includes sustainability as a key responsibility throughout the value chain. The ability to incorporate sustainable business practices while executing complex scientific processes is one attribute that makes Gilead and Kite so unique. This sustainability focus is embedded across all of Gilead and Kite manufacturing operations; from integrating the 12 principles of green chemistry throughout the small molecule development process to Kite’s work on cancer treatments. 

Lymphoma is a cancer that impacts 80,000 people a year globally and there are currently over 100 therapies approved for its treatment. For decades, lymphoma was treated the same way, but in recent years a new treatment option for patients harnessing the power of their own immune system to fight cancer has emerged: CAR T-cell therapy, or CAR T. Unlike many other cancer therapies, CAR T-cell therapies are one-time treatments with curative potential that allow many patients with certain blood cancers to live longer, healthier lives.

Kite is a pioneer in the CAR T-cell therapy field and committed to changing the future of cancer treatment with this one-time, individualised treatment that has the potential to cure certain blood cancers for many patients.

It still sounds amazing when you stop and explain it to someone -- taking a patient’s own T-cells, flying them across the country to a special lab to modify them, flying them back again and re-infusing the modified cells into the patient to fight their cancer.

“It’s been 30 years since curative therapy was approved prior to CAR T and [Kite’s] Yescarta,” says Cindy Perettie, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Kite. “The unique piece about CAR T is it’s what we call a one-and-done treatment—it is a one-time treatment. It’s your own armoured white blood cells with the potential to cure.”

Kite’s impact has rapidly scaled from being able to treat hundreds of patients per year to now having treated 19,500 since Kite’s CAR T therapies have been approved. Given that each cell therapy is uniquely designed for each patient, manufacturing is central to how Kite delivers their therapies, and quality, reliability, and speed are critical. From the early stages of manufacturing to logistical aspects of treatment delivery, Kite strives for operational excellence, leveraging technologies to make their rapid and reliable turnaround time and 96% manufacturing success rate possible. Following the recent FDA approval of a shorter manufacturing time for Yescarta in the U.S., the organisation is anticipating reducing its already industry-leading turnaround time from 16 days to 14 in the U.S.  This has a real world impact for patients as two days in the life of a patient with an aggressive disease can be too long to wait.

The organisation now has two approved therapies available for use in treatments—these are known as Yescarta and Tecartus. Yescarta is approved for second-line and third-line large b-cell lymphoma (LBCL) as well as follicular lymphoma—LBCL being one of the most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). 

Perettie continues: “With Yescarta we’ve had the opportunity to deliver a potentially curative treatment. Yescarta is a CAR T therapy that leverages the white blood cells of a patient. We take out the white blood cells, armour them with chimeric antigen receptors and put them back into the patient’s body to harness its own immune system to fight the disease.”

“We’re the only company that has end-to-end standalone research and development, manufacturing and commercialisation of a potentially curative treatment. Our focus is on providing CAR T to all eligible patients, giving them the opportunity to be cured.” 

The Tecartus treatment covers further strains, including mantle cell lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. This treatment must be capable of acting fast to treat blood cancer that rapidly spreads into a patient's lymphoblastic cells—those responsible for the production of white blood cells—that will, if left untreated, cause an attack on the body itself. 

Kite’s top priority is making sure that every patient who may benefit from CAR T has access to this therapy as early as possible to potentially save their life. This involves creating the right set of circumstances for patients to get access to this innovative treatment.

Delivering a world-class lymphoma treatment

When it comes to delivering such a treatment, the organisational focus on rapid and reliable manufacturing helped enable the FDA approval of the anticipated 14-day turnaround time in the US. Every day matters for patients facing blood cancer, and Kite recognizes the critical importance of its supply chain and global manufacturing network to deliver these individualised therapies to patients.  

This is where we invite Chris McDonald, Head of Technical Operations at Kite, to delve into the logistical side of the business, in particular how it delivers a highly individualised treatment to the masses in a seamless way while also addressing the impact of its supply chain on the environment and its stakeholders. 

“We made some decisions early on—commitments to really build out our capacity and our manufacturing and supply chain teams as well as quality assurance teams,” says McDonald. “Those decisions allow us not only to have really good turnaround times and success rates, but we also have the additional capacity so that a patient has a manufacturing slot.”

This approach to the manufacturing portion of treatment delivery is driven by the mindset of continuous improvement—some in the manufacturing sector might say ‘kaizen’—and is what allows McDonald and the team to continually deliver great efficiency and seek out areas with a potential 1% improvement left to give. 

“We’ve really got this patient-focused mindset and drive for continuous improvement, which means that, even though we’re doing really well, we can’t stop now,” he adds.

 “Every day we come into work we say ‘how can we do this better?’” 

Sustainability  at the core

In 2021, Gilead made significant strides in the evolution of their environmental sustainability program – all while delivering their innovative medicines. Gilead has a longstanding commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, minimising waste generation, conserving water and product stewardship. Gilead is committed to creating a future of responsible and resilient growth, factoring the health of people, communities and the environment into everything they do. Environmental stewardship is part of Gilead’s culture – supported by leadership, their employees are a driving force for helping them achieve their corporate aspirations

These commitments  lead Kite’s technical operations down a more sustainable path. Aside from the overall health benefits of fast-paced delivery, the business also focuses on reducing its environmental impact through improved efficiencies  and other actions driven by data to ensure their relevance to the cause—the word ‘lean’ perhaps being one of the key terms to describe the approach outlined by McDonald.

“While we have a complex manufacturing process, we’ve simplified that as much as we can. We’ve made it repeatable, by removing as much variability as we can,” he explains. “Oftentimes, somebody will ask me, ‘what’s the secret sauce of Kite?’ I want to say ‘there isn’t one’, but I think the really important component is execution.” 

Execution may seem like a simpler idea, but the reality with any business process change is that organisations often spend a lot of time weighing up the minor details of their strategy. In such a fast-paced environment, the team at Kite must consider the variables that impact the end treatment, but generally execute as quickly as possible. 

This requires harmonised cross-functional planning to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page.

Also crucial in Kite’s sustainability journey is its  sourcing of carbon-free renewable  energy, which applies to its manufacturing facilities —showcasing our commitment to improve emissions. This also aligns with the company’s strategic approach to conserve natural resources through energy, water, and waste efficiency projects.  

“When you have a large manufacturing network, the sustainability of your facilities is important. We have large facilities and we've been really focused on driving these to be as efficient as possible from a sustainability perspective,” says McDonald.  

“To further support Gilead’s ambition to reach net zero operational emissions by 2030, I'm really proud of the fact that four out of five of our manufacturing facilities have green building certifications with the fifth one in progress. We've purchased 100% of our energy as renewable energy, and we have green teams at each site who are driving continuous improvements from a sustainability perspective.”  

Prioritising Patient and the Planet

Considering what we’ve learned about Kite’s treatments and how they reach patients, it seems fitting to say that sustainability and patient care are aligned in the Kite process. Firstly, the organisation does its duty to the patients to provide them with the utmost chance of survival of critical illness, and secondly, the team does so with the environmental impact of the organisation in mind. 

Not only is its one-and-done approach successful by the patients’ standards, but also incorporates a much leaner approach to manufacturing treatments as each finished product is assigned on a case-by-case basis. 

“If you think about a typical company, they will make a product, they'll send it out to distribution centres that would stock the inventory,” says Perettie. “We don't have to do that. Having a one-and-done treatment means that we're not sending products to holding facilities where they're continuing to hold them and then transportation again to a hospital.”

This also supports the company’s energy reduction efforts as a much leaner approach to providing treatment minimises the need for excess equipment in its facilities, such as refrigerated storage for compounds or other continuous use of electronic devices. Through automation, the manufacturing process can also be simplified, as explained by McDonald. 

“We continue to look at innovation—automation technologies et cetera—that will streamline our ability to deliver to patients, potentially reduce the turnaround time further, and improve success rates,” he says. “Over the next 12 to 18 months, we’re going to deliver the way we have been, but also improve upon that.”

This sentiment isn’t solely representative of the leadership team at Kite. The sustainable approach also echoes among its workforce as it delivers meaningful ways to reduce the company’s environmental impact. It is also part of a broader, multi-year effort to have an overarching commitment to sustainability throughout Gilead, including Kite.

“Gilead’s sustainability strategy is designed to drive progress toward achieving the company’s mission to create a healthier world for all people,” said Joydeep Ganguly, Senior Vice President, Corporate Operations and Gilead’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “From LEED-certified buildings to sustainable manufacturing practices, our Kite facilities continue to make meaningful contributions to realise our vision of a sustainable low-carbon future”

Learn more about Sustainability at Gilead 

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Gilead Sciences (Kite Pharma)
Gilead Sciences (Kite Pharma)
Gilead Sciences (Kite Pharma)
Gilead Sciences (Kite Pharma)