Why Novartis Leads The Way In Oncology Research

| About: Novartis AG (NVS)

I think biotech investors need more exposure to the science behind their investments. After all, the biotech world is very volatile and risky. Due diligence requires you to go back to school and read up on the likes of patents, scholarly articles, and learning how to decipher through the allusive indifference of premeditated company press releases written by public relations professionals. Actually, getting to the facts of your favorite pharma, requires you to see past the canned power-point presentations and the allure of drug candidates assigned code names.

So, are readers aware of what Novartis is doing in the oncology area? Are they familiar with the collaborators who are helping Novartis? This article may offer a heavy dose of science, but ends with an even better reason regarding which under-appreciated stock may be the hottest opportunity in the next millennia.

The reality is that mega-pharmas like Novartis (NYSE:NVS) have the advantage of being able to afford some of the brightest scientists and the most cutting-edge oncology research money can buy and they are great at hiding their research unless you know where to dig. And that's what I want to do for my readers: dig. For, you'll be amazed at what you can find.

Major Announcement From Novartis

That is why when I viewed a presentation by one of the Vice Presidents at Novartis, my jaw dropped in absolute awe. You see, Novartis has introduced what it is calling the "Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia" that encompasses an impressive 947 cell lines, coupled with 24 anti-cancer drugs that are correlated against the "genetic, lineage, and gene-expression-based predictors of drug sensitivity" (Ibid). Okay, that's a lot to swallow! But read it again!

If the language of science confuses you, allow me to interpret: Novartis, ladies and gentlemen, has moved one step closer to individualized combinatorial cancer medicine [ICCM]. With a bit of Tolkien flare that means: the power of computerized individual medicine is upon us. The one-size-fits-all cancer solution doesn't work: ICCM is the next step for man, the next step to conquer cancer, as you can see below for yourself.

As Novartis states:

"Traditionally, medicines have been developed with a 'one-size-fits-all' model. Approximately half of all patients who take medicines do not respond to them, indicating that there is critical need for a more targeted approach to drug discovery and development.

Advances in biology and computer science are enabling unprecedented analysis of human genes and proteins. These advances help identify patients that may respond positively to particular therapies with new diagnostic tools" (Ibid).

In a collaborative effort with the Broad Institute and MIT in Boston, MA, the Cambridge division of Novartis is moving ahead in the spirit of television legion Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise who would say, "Engage!" And who is among these oncology pioneers? Scientists such as Drs. Giordano Caponigro and Diana Graus Porta whose names recently graced a Novartis patent entitled: "Method For Treating Haematological Cancers". Of course, this patent cites some of the firm's closest collaborators including this telling statement:

"The present invention relates to a combination which comprises (A) a FGFR inhibitor and (B) a glucocorticoid receptor modulator, or a pharmaceutical acceptable salt thereof..."

Of course, readers may ponder: So where does Novartis, in part, draw said affirmation? How does Novartis arrive at these combinatorial medicines? Once again, in part, the answer is supplied here:

"Raw CellTiter GLO relative fluorescent unit (RFU) values were acquired using a microplate reader (PerkinElmer Precisely, Perkin Elmer Life and Analytical Sciences). Data analysis was performed using the Chalice software developed by CombinatoRx (Zalicus Inc., Cambridge, MA, USA). Specifically, the Loewe Additivity (ADD) model was used as the combination reference in the EXAMPLE" (Ibid).

Novartis is using industry standards such as Perkin Elmer equipment. Novartis is dependent upon the Chalice software of a company called Zalicus (ZLCS). And finally, Novartis uses an equation of mathematicians referred to as the Loewe Additivity Model.

In a recent February 2012 publication, a book was released entitled the "Multicomponent Therapeutics" of combinatorial medicine citing its prestigious authors: former CombinatoRx CEO Alexis Borisy, Joseph Lehar at Boston University, and Zalicus researcher Dr. Grant Zimmermann. The age of ICCM is within the next generation.

Smart investors will pour hours of due-diligence looking for fortunate firms like Zalicus that are the cogs in mighty Novartis' research engine. Furthermore, that is why I will never 'Pooh-Pooh' firms like Dendreon (NASDAQ:DNDN) or Cel-Sci (NYSEMKT:CVM) - who are on the cutting-edge of oncology immuno-therapy. Why? Because that SA readers is where scientists and top-flight firms are investing their money. And I believe in the adage: "Follow the money", but not just on Wall Street, but also in the laboratories of companies like Novartis.

Imagine The Future of Personalized Combinatorial Medicine

Soon doctors will take the genetic make-up of a cancer patient, and using high-powered computers capable of screening billions of data points, they will prescribe a literal concoction of anticancer medicines that exhibit a synergistic ability to destroy cancer cells making chemotherapy and radiation passé. How will scientists get there? Through advanced computer programs capable of targeting cancer cells that employ the patient's genetic factors to prescribe the best combinatorial approaches to medicine.

Of course, the smart money will be betting on this kind of medicine because not only does it make sense, it's also going to give the FDA a run for its money to keep up with computer-tech-bio-medicine that is going to challenge the FDA to break down old one-size-fits-all boundaries and move into a medicinal millennia that relies on the computations of computer programmers and not the protracted clinical trials that have slowed cutting-edge medicine. Wow! What a mouth full! But while Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation are spending millions on Africa, they need to see what is going on in their own backyard. Up in Cambridge, MA, scientists are in a race to be the first to deliver ICCM. Who gets there first is going to be filthy-rich.

Bank on it, Novartis is not sitting on the sidelines and mixing anticancer drugs like chemists of old. Those days are over. Novartis is using computer technology to screen for the best combinatorial possibilities that take into account a patient's genetic factors. I appeal to SA readers to educate themselves with information that hints to what is coming next. Helping them in that process is a small pea in biotech pond, a company called Zalicus whose cHTS-Chalice technology is participating in this global initiative. Make no mistake, this initiative is much, much larger than Zalicus. But oh how fortunate Zalicus is going to be; to be in on what looks like medicine something off the Sci-Fi channel.

The Investment Edge

You often hear people say how they wish that they invested in Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) back in the 1980s. Why? Because few people grasped at that time how far the dreams of Steve Jobs and his partners would take the company.

In the same way, long-investors would be well-advised to follow where Novartis is going, including all its collaborators (e.g. Zalicus, MIT, Broad Institute) who eat from its table.

But here's where I end with a story about our future. Imagine you are that cancer patient confined to a bed in a hospital. Your oncologist rolls in a computer into which your genetic sample is injected. Within minutes, the computer targets a combination of anticancer drugs and/or drugs that are known for their synergistic powers, and before the day is over, your IV is feeding your body with a highly defined, highly targeted combination of drugs focused on killing the cancer cells/and their mutations that would otherwise end your life. Impossible? I don't think so, not in the slightest. Why is because that is where Novartis is heading and companies like Zalicus will someday be a part of that story.

On Tuesday's close Novartis share price was $54.59. Investors are, of course, cautioned never to invest more than they are willing to lose.

Disclosure: I am long ZLCS.

Additional disclosure: Investors buy and/or sell at their own risk. I may day-trade any stock at any time appearing in this article. For me "long" means until I sell. I do not "short" stocks.

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