CaroElise Ataku: Driven by a Shared Purpose in Producing Personalized Cell Therapies to Fight Cancer

CaroElise Ataku, a cell therapy specialist (CTS) at Kite, a Gilead Company, has an important responsibility. Her work is an integral part of Kite’s ambitious goal to cure cancer.

Kite specializes in personalized chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies for the treatment of certain blood cancers and CTSs play a critical role in the process that develops those therapies. Each day, a CTS receives batches of patient cells in their own hands, with each batch representing a new patient. Most of these patients have already exhausted other treatment options. The patient focus and the company’s mission to get these therapies to the people who need them most is the foundation of employees’ day-to-day work.

“Kite is mission-oriented, and it’s not enough to just state it. You can actually see it in the everyday work, and in everybody’s interactions.  We all have the same goal, which is to get the products out to the patients.  The patient-first mentality is important here,” said CaroElise.

Through the CAR T-cell therapy manufacturing process, Kite receives batches of the patients’ blood, from which they collect white blood cells. Then, they isolate and activate T cells, which are then engineered before the cell therapy specialists grow and expand the number of T cells. The engineered T cells are then sent back and reinfused into the patient. In other words, CAR T therapy empowers a patient’s own immune system and teaches their cells to fight the cancer.

CaroElise said the innovative science is what initially drew her to Kite.

“The thing that brought me to Kite is that I was interested in challenging myself as someone who’s been in the industry for quite a bit of time,” she said. “And I’ve never been part of a start-up cell therapy manufacturing facility and I thought it was an interesting opportunity to learn more about what goes into bringing a cell therapy manufacturing plant online such as this one.”

Aside from Kite’s patient-focused mission and new technology, CaroElise says the company’s culture and supportive, receptive managers have contributed to a positive work environment and helped with her own career development.

“It’s a very inclusive culture so I always feel like I can go to anybody.  Even interdepartmentally and ask my questions,” CaroElise shared. “It has offered me visibility so I feel like the work that I’ve put forth is recognized. I don’t feel like I’m not important, I feel valued.”

CaroElise is based at Kite’s new state-of-the-art cell therapy manufacturing facility in Frederick, Maryland. The site is currently hiring for cell therapy specialists and many other manufacturing roles.  Next year, the site will begin commercial production with the goal of delivering more therapies to more patients who need them.  You can learn more about careers at Kite and also apply to one of the many job openings currently available.