Looking back is always easy, as hindsight is always 20-20. Sometimes you have the need to reevaluate your thesis and learn from it. Last year I wrote an article entitled, "Alternative Cancer Therapies Currently Overlooked By Investors."
My main focus in that specific article was companies that specialize in Electro Cancer Therapy ("ECT") and immunotherapy. With this article, I want to present a short evaluation of what happened with those companies.
OncoSec Medical (OTC:ONCS) is a biopharmaceutical company developing its advanced-stage ImmunoPulse DNA-based immunotherapy and NeoPulse therapy to treat solid tumor cancers.
The stock price didn't react the way I thought it would. In the last months, it is stuck in a very small trading range, $0.19 - $0.23. On June 4, 2012, the price was $0.18. So basically, not much has happened.
Fortunately stock price is not the only measure of evaluating whether or not a company is doing the right thing. At the milestones page on the company's website, you will see that OncoSec has been quite active with laying the foundation for future successes.
Key milestones that OncoSec looks forward to accomplishing for 2013 include:
- Present interim response data from OncoSec's Phase II melanoma trial along with long-term progression-free survival data from its previous Phase I melanoma program
- Present final data from OncoSec's Phase II melanoma trial and Merkel cell carcinoma trial
- Conduct an end-of-Phase II meeting with the FDA for OncoSec's melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma program
- Present interim data from OncoSec's Phase II cutaneous T-cell lymphoma program
- Plan to launch a pivotal Merkel cell carcinoma program
- Plan to launch a Phase IIB metastatic melanoma program
All these milestones could impact the share price in a positive way. This company will definitely stay on my watch list.
Inovio Biomedical Corporation (INO) is focused on developing multiple DNA-based immunotherapies. The company develops applications of electroporation using brief, controlled electrical pulses to increase cellular uptake of a useful biopharmaceutical.
Inovio has seen its price increase from $0.40 to $0.67 since June 4, 2012. The company announced big news last December with the preliminary results of a Phase II clinical trial to treat leukemia with electroporation showed robust vaccine-specific antibody responses in all vaccinated subjects evaluated to date.
Furthermore, T cell immune responses, including those of the "killer T cells," were detected. Antibody and T cell responses are strong signals of the DNA vaccine's potential to treat the disease.
A month later, on January 7, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) and Inovio announced a follow-on collaboration to advance malaria vaccine development and new vaccination delivery technologies. Researchers will test whether a novel vaccine approach that combines genetically engineered DNA with electroporation could induce an immune response in humans that protects against malaria parasite infection.
This follow-on agreement for clinical development builds on a 2010 research and development collaboration between Inovio and MVI. Inovio researchers and their academic collaborators developed novel DNA plasmids targeting multiple malaria parasite antigens and conducted studies in rodents to demonstrate induction of broad immune responses. The success of these studies resulted in an expanded collaboration, in which further testing demonstrated potent T cell and antibody responses in other animal models.
Great news always drives biotechnology stocks. So watch out for more!
Dendreon's (DNDN) shares haven't moved from my initial call on June 4, 2012. The share price back then was $5.91; now the stock trades at $5.74.
Dendreon's novel technology platform gave rise to the world's first vaccine for the treatment of cancer. Provenge uses Dendreon's proprietary technology to essentially train a patient's immune system to recognize and fight cancer. The firm collects a patient's antigen-presenting cells (APCs or dendritic cells), exposes them to a tumor antigen combined with an immunomodulator in the lab, and infuses the primed APCs back into the patient to attack tumor cells. Provenge is approved for metastatic, castrate-resistant prostate cancer and has been shown to extend median survival by 4.1 months in clinical trials, putting it on par with some of the best-selling cancer drugs including Roche's Avastin.
Dendreon is facing new battles in its attempt to make the drug a commercial hit. Provenge's price tag of USD 93,000 has attracted reimbursement scrutiny. Dendreon's future is tied to Provenge's undetermined place in the evolving prostate cancer market.
More than a dozen new prostate cancer drugs are set to capture share in the market during the next decade, but Provenge represents a nontoxic treatment option for the underserved prostate cancer market, and it proved capable of extending overall survival and shortening treatment duration in clinical trials. The market for prostate cancer is expected to double during the next 10 years, because of an aging patient population and the arrival of new treatment options on the market. The firm is well-positioned to negotiate significant milestones and royalties from a potential marketing partner abroad.
Celgene's (CELG) share price has done extremely well. From $64.89 in June to more than $105.00 right now. The success of its blood cancer drug Revlimid, and the acquisitions of Pharmion and Abraxis have led to investors' increased appetite in this company. The company's growing cancer and immunoinflammatory drug pipeline gives Celgene an interesting footprint going forward.
Revlimid sales increased to $3.8 billion in 2012, or 68% of Celgene's total sales. Some analysts believe Revlimid sales will surpass $6 billion in 2017.
Growth prospects in multiple myeloma are strong, so Celgene's Revlimid will contribute to future growth of the company. The strong pipeline of Celgene has more potential blockbusters such as Pomalyst, which is on track to receive U.S. and European approval in 2013 and could serve multiple myeloma patients who fail with therapies such as Velcade and Revlimid.
Outside of oncology, Celgene is on track to apply for approval of apremilast in psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis in 2013. Last Saturday Celgene announced that its experimental drug, apremilast, proved to be more effective than a dummy pill for psoriasis patients in a late-stage study, clearing the way for the company to file for U.S. regulatory approval in the second half of 2013.
Celgene said 59% of patients in the 844-patient trial achieved a 50% improvement in symptoms at 16 weeks, using a standard score of the severity and extent of psoriasis, compared with 17% of placebo patients. A 75% improvement in symptoms was seen in 33% of the treatment group and 5% of the placebo group.
Revlimid continues to generate impressive data in approved and potential new indications, and growth should be bolstered by expanded duration of use and geographic reach. Celgene has made two sizable purchases that contribute to its diversification. The acquisition of Pharmion further strengthened Celgene's strategic focus on blood- related cancer therapies, and the more recent Abraxis acquisition moves the firm into the broader oncology market.
The company had $3.9 billion in cash at the end of 2012 and with a free cash flow of more than $2 billion annually, the company has enough cash for share buy backs and acquisitions.
Electrochemotherapy is a potential solution for challenging situations in melanoma, breast cancer, and head and neck cancer, and OncoSec has the platform to treat and cure these cancers going forward.
The advantages of electrochemotherapy are the repeatability, the preservation of normal tissue and organ function, the use in previously irradiated areas, palliation of painful, ulcerated or bleeding lesions, the possibility of concomitant use with other therapies, and improved quality of life.
Electroporation-based cancer treatment approaches are currently undergoing intensive investigation in the field of drug delivery and gene therapy. One of the companies that is making progress in electroporation is OncoSec Medical, but also Inovio Pharmaceuticals. Both companies stay on my watch list for this year.
Dendreon will have to capitalize on its prostate cancer drug, Provenge, by finding the right partner, and Celgene has the cash to expand its reach into other cancer fields.