ASH: Gilead Sciences touts 'astounding' Yescarta survival results at 3 years

Gilead's CAR-T med Yescarta won FDA approval in October 2017. (Gilead China)

ORLANDO, FLORIDA—How long can a single infusion of Gilead Sciences CAR-T drug Yescarta continue helping patients with refractory large B-cell lymphoma? Pretty long, the company showed Saturday.

Among patients who had received Yescarta at least three years ago, nearly half—47%—were still alive at a median follow-up of 39.1 months, the Big Biotech’s Kite unit said at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting. Yescarta prolonged patients’ lives by a median 25.8 months in the phase 2 study, called Zuma-1.

Those figures are “astounding” for patients with relapsed or refractory disease, said Peter Emtage, senior vice president and global head of cell therapy research at Kite.

RELATED: Gilead, Novartis tout long-term data for CAR-T slow starters Yescarta, Kymriah

The data highlight “one of the most important features of the molecule because it consistently delivers that response rate,” he added. “Essentially what it’s saying is, you’ve got an approximately 50% chance of being alive at three years. There really is no other data set like it.”

Yescarta—which competes with Novartis’ CAR-T Kymriah—won its FDA approval back in October 2017. It’s cleared for patients with relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma, including aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, who have failed two or more traditional treatments.

Thanks to reimbursement challenges, though, Yescarta sales have been slow to pick up; the product reeled in just $118 million worldwide during 2019’s third quarter.

But the way Gilead sees it, those sales don’t reflect doctors’ interest in the product.

“People are interested in hearing more about it. They want it in their practices for their patients and the level of performance,” Emtage said, pointing to the number of oral and poster presentations the therapy garnered at this year’s ASH meeting.

RELATED: Is Gilead’s new CAR-T overpriced or is payer bureaucracy to blame for slow pickup?

And the company isn’t letting up. In 2019, it refueled with a slate of experienced, oncology-focused leaders, including longtime Roche exec Daniel O’Day; Novartis and Lilly veteran Christi Shaw; and Johanna Mercier, whom Gilead poached from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

It’s also looking beyond Yescarta’s current uses, Emtage said.

“The emphasis is not only at increasing efficacy but balancing safety so we can move these drugs into different settings and earlier lines of therapy,” he noted.