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Just as the biotech world penciled in Kite Pharma as the winner of the race to launch the first CAR-T cancer therapy, Novartis crept in from behind and took the lead. But beyond fueling a day-to-day debate among insiders, is coming in first in CAR-T really all that important?

With Wednesday’s announcement, Novartis is on track to win a pioneering FDA approval in about six months. Kite, which has promised to file its lead CAR-T any day now, will have to wait on the agency to accept its application and decide whether to give the company the fast-track review it granted Novartis. Advantage: Swiss pharma behemoth.


But all the horserace terminology around CAR-T often neglects the fact that Novartis and Kite are targeting completely different cancers with their inaugural efforts. If approved, Novartis’s therapy will be used to treat children and young adults with a severe form of leukemia, while Kite’s is aimed at adults with relapsed lymphoma.

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