Gilead Sciences agreed to buy Israeli-founded Kite Pharma in a $11.9 billion deal on Monday.Santa Monica, California- based Kite is developing a new CAR-T blood cancer therapy, axi-cel, which harnesses the body’s own immune cells to recognize and attack malignant cells.Arie Belldegrun, an Israeli- American oncologist who founded the firm in 2009 and is its current chairman, president and chief executive officer, said this was a monumental achievement for his company.“From the release of our pivotal data for axi-cel, to our potential approval by the FDA, this is a year of milestones,” he said. “Each and every accomplishment is a reflection of the talent that is unique to Kite. We are excited that Gilead, one of the most innovative companies in the industry, recognized this value and shares our passion for developing cutting-edge and potentially curative therapies for patients.”Belldegrun said CAR-T has the potential to become one of the most powerful anti-cancer agents for hematologic cancers.“With Gilead’s expertise and support, we hope to fulfill that potential by rapidly accelerating our robust pipeline and next-generation research and manufacturing technologies for the benefit of patients around the world,” he said.The company’s technology is based on the research of Prof. Zelig Eshhar of the Weizmann Institute of Science. Gilead, looking to replace flagging sales from hepatitis C drugs with an emerging and expensive class of cancer immunotherapies, will pay $180 per share in an all-cash deal, representing a 29.4% premium over Kite’s Friday close.The deal for Kite, which has been approved by the boards of both companies, is expected to close in the fourth quarter.Kite is one of the leading players in the emerging field of CAR-T, and is competing with rivals Novartis AG, Juno Therapeutics and Bluebird Bio in a race to get the first approved therapy.If approved, these drugs are expected to cost up to $500,000 and generate billions of dollars. Success would also help advance a cancer-fighting technique that scientists have been trying to perfect for decades.The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide by November 29 whether to approve Kite’s CART, axi-cel, for treatment of adults with advanced lymphoma.Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.