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Gilead beats Novartis in UK deal to treat adult blood cancer patients

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The U.K. National Health Service reached a deal with Gilead Sciences Inc. to make Yescarta available on the national public health system to adult patients with blood cancer.

With this deal, Gilead's Yescarta becomes the first chimeric antigen receptor T, or CAR-T, cell therapy available to adult blood cancer patients on the NHS, beating rival Novartis AG's Kymriah. Yescarta, also known as axicabtagene ciloleucel, is intended to treat patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, or DLBCL, and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma, or PMBCL, who have failed at least two previous therapies.

Gilead's commercial agreement with the NHS would make Yescarta available via the health system's Cancer Drugs Fund, which provides a means through which NHS patients could get cancer drugs that failed to receive backing from the U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. The treatment, which is made by Gilead unit Kite Pharma Inc., would have cost nearly £300,000 per patient at its full list price.

In September, NICE rejected Yescarta for routine NHS use because of uncertainty about the drug's benefits in patients with DLBCL and PMBCL, two aggressive forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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The British drug price watchdog also recommended against the NHS routine use of Kymriah, or tisagenlecleucel, in treating patients with DLBCL as the Swiss pharmaceutical company lacks data comparing the drug with salvage chemotherapy, the most common treatment option, and the therapy was too expensive for the indication. Kymriah was approved for treating B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but only for children and young adult patients on the NHS.

The Gilead deal paves the way for the treatment of about 200 blood cancer patients on the NHS, the health system said.