It is fortunate for all cancer patients and sufferers that innovations in treatment are evolving at a rapid pace. No longer must patients be subjected to invasive procedures and surgeries, nor are the only other viable options radiation and chemotherapy, which both leave the patient in a very weakened state. There are currently many companies vying for a place in the very large and complex cancer treatment space. These contenders are offering novel approaches to combating cancer-alternatives as well as adjuvant therapies. Let us shine a light on three up and coming contenders in the space who are offering something different and ingenious.
Combating Cancer With Heat: Radiofrequency Ablation
AngioDynamics (ANGO) is a company that originally focused on R & D of products and devices in interventional radiology. The company also produces diagnostic and delivery medical devices and supplies. This contender's cancer-fighting weapon lies with its Radiofrequency Ablation technology. Ablation is the destruction and removal of (tumor) tissue via intense heat. Radiofrequency waves pass though an inserted needle-like probe causing cancer tissue to heat up and be destroyed.
AngioDynamics has a variety of treatment technologies, with three from the RFA category being UniBlate™, StarBurst®, and NanoKnife®, with the last having received FDA 510K clearance for soft tissue surgical ablation. The StarBurst® system, though not FDA-cleared, does have a CE Mark for sales in the EU. The device is intended to treat smaller lesions in a variety of cancers.
The company entered into a definite agreement to acquire Navilyst Medical on January 31, 2012. This $355 million acquisition will add to AngioDynamics' presence in the field, as Navilyst is a company focused on vascular treatment, interventional radiology, and interventional cardiology.
Current efforts within the company lie, in large part, with utilizing the NanoKnife® System to treat pancreatic cancer tumors, a fairly large market that has seen less-than-stellar success in the past. If the technology proves to be the breakthrough needed, then the company will surely benefit.
AngioDynamics has solid revenue and margins that have been growing steadily quarter over quarter. The company has an R & D budget that is consistent with its revenues, as well as SG&A expenses being proportional to sales.
The company has a market cap of $398 million. Currently, AngioDynamics is trading at about $11.43 per share. Its 52-week range is $10.00- $12.91. Keep your eyes on this company, as its diverse arsenal and unique pipeline can prove very successful to cancer sufferers and investors.
Combating Cancer With Electric Current: Electroporation
Our next contender, OncoSec Medical (ONCS.OB), also features a proprietary, novel technology with a non-invasive nature. The technology is referred to as electroporation, utilizing a procedure in which 6 needle-like electrodes are inserted into tumor tissue and then short bursts of electricity are administered. The electrical pulses create temporary, but dramatic, porosity in the affected tissues, allowing a substantial increase in uptake of administered therapeutic agents (up to 4000 fold). After the pulses stop, the membranes and tissues retain the applicable therapy or drug, as the pores quickly close up. The efficacy of the treatment is greatly improved, less dosage amounts are therefore required, and there is minimal spillage of the agent into healthy tissues or body systems.
The company dubs its device the OMS System (where OMS is simply an abbreviation of OncoSec Medical System), and is classified into two technologies: ImmunoPulse and NeoPulse, depending on the agent or drug being administered.
With ImmunoPulse, the system utilizes an IL-12 plasmid DNA construct-a therapy that causes cells to react and create interleukin-12, which is a protein that instructs circulating macrophages and cytotoxic T-cells to eliminate foreign bodies and cancerous cells. Normally, cancer is not detected by the immune system, so this clever therapeutic teaches the immune system to do so.
With a completely different approach, NeoPulse uses chemotherapy agents introduced into electroporated cancer tissue. Though the system can be used with a wide variety of chemotherapy agents, OncoSec is focused on utilizing bleomycin, a drug already approved for use with several cancers. The key here is that the technology prevents or minimizes unwanted side effects and a minimal collateral damage to the body, which is quite important when dealing with toxic chemo drugs.
OncoSec's electroporation technologies are promising and have yielded positive results thus far. ImmunoPulse has shown safety and efficacy in a Phase I melanoma study, with no toxicity issues. The company has yielded results that compare to or exceed response rates of other treatments, such as Yervoy [from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY)] and Zelboraf (Genetech). OncoSec has begun three Phase II trials for late-stage metastatic melanoma, Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL).
An approval for either of OncoSec's treatments would spell great things for investors. Fortunately, the company doesn't need to face the regulatory hurdles of having a new drug approved, as its OMS System is a delivery device utilizing already- approved drugs. The value of the company lies with potential sales.
OncoSec has a market cap of $20.07 million and a 52-week trading range of $0.14-$0.49. Currently, the stock is at $0.24. Be on the look out for future catalysts: approvals, partnerships, and future trial data. This is a small company that holds huge promise.
Combating Cancer With Immunotherapy: Vaccine Adjuvant
Our last contender, Agenus (AGEN), is a company that focuses on the development and commercialization of new breakthrough immunotherapies for cancer and other diseases. The company's frontrunner weapon makes for an impressive pipeline: QS-21 Stimulon® vaccine adjuvant. The product's intended indications range widely and include malaria, melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, shingles, Alzheimer's, and genital herpes, as well as 10 undisclosed indications. As this is an adjuvant, QS-21 Stimulon® is intended to be used in conjunction with vaccines to increase efficacy. The adjuvant is currently in Phase III trials for the following indications: RTS,S for malaria, MAGE-A3 for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), MAGE-A3 for melanoma, and Zoster Herpes for shingles. Agenus is partnered with both GlaxoSmithKline and Janssen for its various indications.
It should be noted that the company also has another set of products in its pipeline, which are vaccine candidates dubbed the Prophage Series. These vaccines comprise of the company's patent-specific therapeutic cancer vaccines, and tested in more than 850 patients in multiple cancers. One of the vaccines in this portfolio, Oncophage®, has met approval in Russia for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in patients that risk immediate recurrence. With this product, Agenus granted the right for NewVac, LLC to manufacture, market, and sell Oncophage®.
If data from the various Phase III trials proves positive, this will be quite beneficial to Agenus and investors-not to mention cancer patients. Strong data from the melanoma trials and non-small cell lung cancer can be hoped for in regards to patients' benefit. Much hope rests on QS-21 as licensing and royalties can be capitalized on. The company shows much promise with its vast pipeline of products, already showing positive progress and results.
Agenus' market cap is $102.07 million and its 52-week trading range is $3.37 - $7.41. The stock is currently trading on the lower end at $3.89. Trial results from any of its four QS-21 adjuvant Phase III trials should certainly create lots of excitement, assuming results are positive.
The three companies featured in this piece all have unique, but promising approaches to treating cancer. All three contenders deserve a closer look and consideration. One can hope that any or all of the contenders will eventually score big with a "one-two" knockout punch to defeat cancer.
Disclosure: I am long ONCS. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.