During the last decade, companies have spent billions of dollars in research to find new ways of treating the deadly disease of cancer. The difficult part is that cancer can come in a variety of different forms and can affect different parts of the body. This can make finding effective treatments very challenging. However, there is one promising treatment program that may soon create a lot of hope among medical professionals. That program is called immunotherapy.
What Is Immunotherapy?
is defined as the treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response. Cancer immunotherapy attempts to stimulate the immune system to reject and destroy tumors. Immunotherapy for cancer was first developed by the National Institute of Health USA. In the late 1980s
, a team of researchers reported a low tumor regression rate of roughly 3% in 1205 patients with metastatic cancer who underwent different types of immunotherapy.
Since that time, a lot of time and money has been spent attempting to take immunotherapy to the next level. Below are four companies which are on the verge of finding breakthrough treatments for aggressive forms of cancer.
Celldex Therapeutics, Inc.
Celldex Therapeutics is the first antibody-based combination immunotherapy company. Celldex has a pipeline of drug candidates in development for the treatment of cancer and other difficult-to-treat diseases based on its antibody-focused Precision Targeted Immunotherapy Platform. The PTI Platform is a complementary portfolio of monoclonal antibodies, antibody-targeted vaccines and immunomodulators used in optimal combinations to create novel disease-specific drug candidates.
During the past six months, Celldex shares have rallied by more than 125%. Most of this run can be attributed to the hype surrounding CDX-011
, a drug candidate that is a potential breakthrough treatment for breast cancer. CDX-011 is an antibody drug conjugate that was licensed from Seattle Genetics, Inc.
(NASDAQ:SGEN). The antibody conjugate works by connecting with cancer cells that contain a protein called glycoprotein NMB (GPNMB for short). GPNMB has been shown to express itself in some of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. Once the antibody is connected to the protein, CDX-011 releases a toxic chemotherapy payload.
In December of last year, Celldex released extremely promising data
from a mid-stage trial of CDX-011. Celldex announced that the trial had demonstrated delayed tumor growth and had prolonged survival in patients with advanced and aggressive forms of breast cancer when compared to those only using the standard chemotherapy. Patients treated with CDX-011 had a median survival rate of 12.5 months compared to just 5.4 months for patients in the control arm.
Analysts are expecting potential sales of $300 million
if the drug is approved. On that amount of revenue, Celldex could generate $1.60 per share. A conservative P/E ratio of 20 would yield a share price of $32.00.
OncoSec Medical Inc
OncoSec is an early stage biotechnology company focused on developing and commercializing treatments for advanced forms of skin cancer.
The company is primarily focused on three types of difficult to treat skin cancers:
Merkel cell lymphoma
Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
OncoSec has developed a proprietary process known as electroporation, which uses an electrical pulse to create temporary pores in cancer cells. Clinically proven chemotherapeutics or gene-based cytokines are then delivered through these pores, allowing for more effective treatment at significantly lower doses. The company’s technology development now includes the design and manufacture of medical-grade electrical pulse generators, treatment applications, and software that maximize safety and efficacy for different clinical applications.
The company has two primary methods
for killing cancer:
ImmunoPulse: Delivers a protein (DNA IL-12), which stimulates the immune system to target and kill cancer cells.
NeoPulse: Targeted therapy that delivers bleomycin, an approved anti-cancer drug that destroys cancer cells.
In addition to having three ongoing clinical trials
, OncoSec just recently announced that it has signed a Sponsored Research Agreement
(SRA) with Old Dominion University and the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics. Under the agreement, OncoSec and Old Dominion will collaborate on nonclinical research focused on developing new technology related to the electroporation and delivery of different agents into solid tumors by electroporation. The first research experiment under this SRA will evaluate the effects of ImmunoPulse in combination with Anti-CTLA4, Anti-PD1 and Anti-PDL-1 in a melanoma mouse model. The study is expected to begin this month.
Two Companies Fighting to Treat Brain Cancer
In a much smaller niche within the immunotherapy field, there are two small-cap companies fighting to offer a breakthrough treatment for brain cancer. Those two companies are Northwest Biotherapeutics, Inc
(NASDAQ:NWBO) and ImmunoCellular Therapeutics Ltd
ImmunoCellular Therapeutics is an early stage biotechnology company focused on developing and commercializing new therapeutics to fight cancer using the immune system. The flagship product for ImmunoCellular is ICT-107. ICT-107 is a vaccine used in the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). It is in currently being evaluated in a Phase II trial after successfully completing a Phase I trial
. The Phase I trial demonstrated prolonged survival with relatively low toxicity. The company expects to update investors on the Phase II trial’s progress by the end of 2013.
Much like ImmunoCellular, Northwest Biotherapeutics is focused on developing cancer therapies that utilize its capability in the biology of dendritic cells, which are a type of white blood cells that activate the immune system. The company has two ongoing trials, one of which is for DCVax-L. This product is currently in a Phase III clinical trial
and will also be used to treat glioblastoma multiforme. The trial is expected to enroll approximately 300 patients that are newly diagnosed and require treatment with surgery, radiation and concurrent chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy is an extremely promising niche within the biotechnology field but it is still extremely speculative. The companies mentioned in this article have a lot of promise but carry a high degree of risk and investors should understand their risk tolerance before considering investing in any company listed in this article.
Editor's note: TM Meyer is a former equity derivatives market maker based out of Chicago. He currently manages his own personal portfolio using a combination of fundamental analysis, technical analysis, and event driven catalysts.
No positions in stocks mentioned.