Kite Pharma taking over “half the Science Park”

The biotech company Kite Pharma is one of the big success stories at the Amsterdam Science Park. Having started its residence with a research & development team of just ten people, its numbers are currently dramatically expanding – only for the process set to go full circle in two years’ time.

Kite Pharma, a subsidiary of Gilead Sciences and headquartered in California, is at the forefront of cancer therapy, specialising in T-cell immunotherapy. “We produce a therapy for cancer based on the patient’s immune cells,” explains Markwin Velders, vice president operations Europe. “They are reprogrammed to recognise cancer cells and eliminate them,” a process made possible by adding a receptor protein that recognises another protein located on the tumour cells. 

"Another plus was that the Science Park provided a site with both offices and wet labs. As far as I know, that’s still pretty unique in Amsterdam” - Markwin Velders, vice president operations Europe

Kite’s research & development department has been at the Science Park since 2015, and Velders has been there from the start – “I was the first employee!” he says. Back then, he was at a company called T-Cell Factory, which was in the process of being acquired by Kite Pharma, and he lauds the level of flexibility afforded to them by the Science Park. “They were very nice to accommodate us while we were waiting for the deal with Kite to come through. You need to be flexible in a situation like that,” he says. Another plus was that the Science Park provided a site with both offices and wet labs. “As far as I know, that’s still pretty unique in Amsterdam,” says Velders. “The combination of offices with wet labs that were ready to go is exactly what we needed.” 

Kite is located in two of the Science Park’s Matrix Innovation Centers, renowned for the spirit of cooperation across different businesses and research organisations. Although that doesn’t really apply to Kite due to the necessary confidentiality measures around its product, Velders says they have great relationships with the other companies – “especially the ones that are on the same floors – although they are slowly disappearing as we expand!” 

Which brings us to the next topic. Following Gilead Sciences’ $11.9 billion acquisition of Kite Pharma in 2017, and in the run-up to the opening of Kite Pharma’s global production site in Hoofddorp, planned for 2020, the company’s Science Park sites are getting increasingly crowded. “We’re taking over half the Science Park!” says Velders. While that might not strictly be correct, the scale is certainly increasing. The new site near Amsterdam Airport Schiphol will be a commercial manufacturing location intended to engineer and quickly supply cancer therapies to all patients in Europe. As such, it is beyond the Science Park’s scope, both in terms of sheer size and of what the Science Park wants to be. But in preparation, “we are expanding quite aggressively,” says Velders. The new site will eventually host more than 300 new employees, and they are beginning to trickle into Kite’s current home and into a big new container that the company has opened at the Startup Village. 

But this is a temporary process, at least as far as the Science Park is concerned. “In the end, we will evacuate most of the Science Park again,” says Velders. Except, of course, for the research & development department. He expects to be left with a team of 20 to 25. Size-wise, what does he prefer – working with tens or with hundreds? “I like the startup phase. Not in the sense of having no money, but I like it if there’s lots going on and things are not so structured. Or rather, they are chaotic, but on the way to structure. That’s the business ideal, isn’t it? To start from chaos and go to building something sustainable.” 

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