Shares of Juno Therapeutics continued to soar on Tuesday. The stock has now gained nearly 40% since the announcement that fellow CAR-T cancer therapy designer Kite Pharma is being acquired by biotech behemoth Gilead Sciences (GILD - Free Report
Along with Kite and Bluebird Bio (BLUE - Free Report
) , Juno is a leader in the development of CAR-T cancer treatments—a therapy that includes making genetic changes to a patient’s immune T-cells and reinjecting them into the body to attack cancer cells.
Kite is significantly further in the approval process than Juno and Bluebird, and its lead candidate, axicabtagene ciloleucel, is currently under review by the FDA. Axicabtagene ciloleucel is expected to be approved as a treatment for aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with a decision coming on or before November 29.
On Monday, Gilead announced that it was acquiring Kite for $11.9 billion in an all-cash deal. The buyout valued Kite at $180 per share, a 29% premium to the company’s closing price on Friday (also read: Why Did Kite Pharma Stock Skyrocket Today?
“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,” Gilead President and CEO John F. Milligan said in a statement.
Of course, the acquisition immediately inspired speculation that Juno and Bluebird would also become takeover targets.
With a market cap of just $3.8 billion, Juno would be the cheapest of the three CAR-T leaders; however, the company recently took a step back in the approval process. In March, Juno announced that it was discontinuing development of its lead CAR-T candidate, which had already reached Phase 2 development.
Bluebird’s CAR-T program, bb2121, is still in Phase 1, but the drug has pretty encouraging data so far. Bluebird’s market cap currently sits at about $4.9 billion.
Interestingly, both Juno and Bluebird have partnerships with Celgene (CELG - Free Report
) , another global biopharma giant. However, Bluebird’s partnership only extends to its bb2121 project, so it could a more diversified buyout candidate—especially considering that the company has another gene therapy program targeting beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease.
Nevertheless, Juno might emerge as the lowest-priced CAR-T pure play right now.
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