Kite Pharma named Christine Cassiano its new SVP of corporate communications and investor relations as it prepares to bring its experimental CAR-T cancer therapy to market.
Her appointment comes on the heels of positive interim Phase-II data for Kite’s experimental cancer therapy, KTE-C19, in late September. The company has said the data will inform its submission for KTE-C19 to the FDA.
Cassiano, a former communications executive at Allergan and W2O Group, is charged with communicating the value of an emerging new class of cancer drugs known as CAR-T therapies. KTE-C19 is part of a promising new class of drugs, called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies, that are viewed as promising new contenders to treat certain cancers. If KTE-C19 is approved, Kite would be the first drugmaker to secure FDA approval of a CAR-T therapy. Novartis, Bluebird BIO, and Juno Therapeutics are also developing CAR-T therapies
“We have nothing but a white board,” Cassiano said. ”To me the key is being creative in how you look at it. It’s not just looking at it from an academic point of view, it’s about making it relatable to patients. They have to be the ones to understand it. They’re putting their lives in our hands. They need to be able to put their faith and hope in it and understand the science behind it. It’s not just about about having a physician or academic understanding.”
Part of that effort to relate to patients will be to tap into social media, she said. “It’s a risk-averse industry, but there’s a smart way to do social media,” Cassiano noted. “It has to be done in a way that you can embrace it and not be fearful. The industry spends a lot of time talking at people rather than talking with them. There’s a such a great opportunity to make communication more genuine and two-way.”
Cassiano most recently served as a managing director at W20 Group and has held roles at Allergan, Hill & Knowlton, and ARC2 Communications, an agency she founded. While at Allergan, where she was a senior communications manager for North America, Cassiano was part of the launch of Botox’s first-approved cosmetic indication, which came down from the FDA in 2002.
After she landed at Hill & Knowlton, Cassiano said she became frustrated with how similar marketing plans were for drug companies at the time. “You had these cookie cutter [marketing] plans,” she recalled, adding that that frustration would lead her to start her own independent healthcare agency ARC2 Communications. “We wanted to change the dynamic of healthcare communications.”