Celgene CEO: New therapies for a certain type of cancer boost survival rates 10-fold

  • A new approach to treating patients suffering from an aggressive form of blood cancer could increase survival rates 10-fold to 20 years, Celgene CEO Mark Alles says.
  • Celgene and Bluebird Bio announced positive results in treating patients with multiple myeloma.

A new approach to treating patients suffering from an aggressive form of blood cancer could increase survival rates 10-fold to 20 years, Celgene CEO Mark Alles told CNBC on Monday.

Celgene and Bluebird Bio announced on Sunday updated, positive results from their early stage study on a therapy for people with multiple myeloma — a blood cancer that develops in plasma cells, affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. each year.

The Phase 1 clinical study demonstrated encouraging results in treating patients with late-stage relapsed-refractory multiple myeloma. The treatment is a type of so-called CAR T-cell therapy — taking a patient's own immune cells, called T cells, genetically manipulating them to attack specific proteins on cancer, and infusing them back into the patient.

"Ten years ago, the median survival for myeloma was about two years," Alles said on "Squawk Box" at the American Society of Hematology annual meeting in Atlanta. "Today, with CAR T ... we're going to see people live 20, 30 years without the disease."

"The quality of responses is unbelievable," Alles said about the treatment. "We have an almost 100 percent response rate," he added. "It's unprecedented."

CNBC asked Celgene to clarify whether Alles meant Celgene's CAR T treatment or other currently approved drugs would result in people living longer.

A spokesperson for Celgene said: "Interestingly, it's a little of both. We see anecdotal cases of patients living 20 years and beyond with sequencing of the many current options available [that definitely weren't there when they were diagnosed]. With new therapies like CAR T, the hope is that we continue to see more of these cases."

On the study results, Bluebird stock soared 22 percent to around $209.50 per share on Monday. Celgene shares gained 2.6 percent to $108.79. Analysts, including a team from Suntrust, raised their price targets on both companies.

Celgene plans to begin enrolling patients this month for a larger, potentially pivotal trial that could position the new treatment to become the third approved CAR T-cell therapy.

Alles said Monday the company will investigate whether patients are "cured" or rather "in a chronic stage of remission."

"The data follow up will tell," he said.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

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