Biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences has entered a definitive agreement to acquire US-based Kite Pharma for approximately $11.9bn.

Kite Pharma specialises in the development of new cell therapies, which use a patient’s own immune cells to combat cancer.

The current transaction will offer opportunities for diversification of revenues and was unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

Gilead Sciences president and chief executive officer Dr John F. Milligan said: “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.”

The transaction will be financed with a combination of cash on hand, bank debt and senior unsecured notes, and is expected to conclude in the fourth quarter of this year.

"CAR T has the potential to become one of the most powerful anti-cancer agents for hematologic cancers."

Kite Pharma has created engineered cell therapies that express either a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) or an engineered T-cell receptor (TCR), based on the type of cancer.

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The company’s primary CAR T therapy candidate, axicabtagene ciloleucel (axi-cel), is expected to be the first available treatment for refractory aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, including diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), transformed follicular lymphoma (TFL) and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL).

Kite Pharma president, chairman and CEO Dr Arie Belldegrun said: “CAR T has the potential to become one of the most powerful anti-cancer agents for hematologic cancers.”

Axicabtagene ciloleucel is currently under priority review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A marketing authorisation application (MAA) has also been filed with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for axi-cel for the treatment of relapsed / refractory DLBCL, TFL and PMBCL.

The approval in Europe is expected in 2018.