A shift towards personalised cancer treatment

“If you do interesting things, people know how to find you.” Markwin Velders, VP operations & managing director of Kite, lists the Amsterdam Area’s impressive talent pool as a driving factor in the ongoing success of its life sciences and health industry. Continually ranked among the best research hubs in the world, the city region produces award-winning scientists with the entrepreneurial mindset that it takes to change the course of cancer research.

Kite, a Gilead company, is one of the Amsterdam Area’s many life sciences and health organisations to benefit from these great minds. “We’re always looking for new colleagues to join Kite. We invest in finding people who want to be part of this paradigm shift in cancer treatment.”

The 'interesting things' in question are innovative cell therapies, which scientists at Kite believe to be at the forefront of a shift towards personalised cancer treatment. Kite’s signature T-cell-based immunotherapy reprogrammes patients’ own cells to fight cancer, arming the immune system with the tools to target and attack cancer cells from within.

This type of intervention comes at a time when patients and their doctors have exhausted every other option. “It’s really at the end when the doctor says ‘well, there’s nothing more I can do for you’ that T-cell therapy could provide an opportunity,” Velders explains.   

KIte Markwin Velders

Making a difference for patients and their families

Kite was established as a company in Santa Monica in 2009. In 2015, Kite bought T Cell Factory in Amsterdam, a spin-off from NKI to further contribute to the development of cell therapy. Kite was later purchased by US-owned biopharmaceutical company Gilead in 2017. The number of employees on the Dutch team was just three in 2014. Currently there are approximately 200 people working for Kite in the Amsterdam region and it is expected this number will top 400 in 2020.

Velders says that expanding the team has been made easier by Amsterdam’s steady influx of top-level graduates. “The city’s four hospitals are in close proximity and, if you include the centres of Utrecht and Leiden, there are several world-leading (academic) institutes within a 50-kilometre radius of Amsterdam.” 

“We can really make a difference for patients and their families,” Velders explains, “and this attracts highly motivated researchers and scientists who want to be part of that.” He predicts that there are even more opportunities in life sciences and health than students are currently aware of. With a major emphasis on innovation, Kite is working towards making their biotech innovations available to more and more patients. 

Kite’s next development is to open a new production facility at SEGRO Park Amsterdam Airport in Hoofddorp, near Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The new facility will provide opportunities for Kite to treat European patients. At present, each patient’s cells are shipped back and forth to Kite’s production facility in Los Angeles. The new location in Hoofddorp will result in a shorter turnaround time for treatment as cells can be fully reprogrammed in the Netherlands.

This also enables the company to supply to the rest of Europe and reduce its carbon footprint. “Location is everything. Logistically, it’s a very demanding product,” Velders says.

Kite Markwin Velders

A steady supply of scientific talent

The Amsterdam Area’s logistical advantages are just one of the many benefits of doing business in the Amsterdam region. While it doesn’t directly impact Kite’s day-to-day operations, the European Medicines Agency’s presence in Amsterdam is likely to attract more talent and opportunities for collaboration.

The Netherlands’ top-ranking universities produce a steady supply of scientific talent, and perhaps best of all, the country’s impressive proficiency in English prevents any difficulties in communication for international businesses. “We talk to the mothership [Los Angeles office] on a daily basis and our language in the company is English. If you can offer a workforce in the right language without any barriers in communication, that’s a significant advantage.”   

Amsterdam’s life sciences sector is a collaborative one, and Velders speaks warmly about the support Kite has received from the City of Amsterdam. Particularly during the expansion, the mayor, alderpersons and several representatives from amsterdam inbusiness played an important role in helping Kite to make connections and get settled.

“There are so many people and so many companies that have believed in this concept over the years,” Velders adds. As the life sciences and health industry continues to reach new heights, it is clearly gaining visibility as a rapidly growing area of opportunity that directly benefits society.

Read more business news from around Amsterdam.