I have often discussed ICT-107, and have made no secret in my ownership of ImmunoCellular Therapeutics' (NYSEMKT:IMUC) stock. It has become one of the better performing biotechnology stocks of 2012, with a YTD gain of 165% thanks to its intellectual property acquisitions, buy-out rumors, and study results from its immunotherapy vaccine ICT-107 for the treatment of glioblastoma. And the reason that other investors and I are so optimistic about the future of this vaccine is because of the potential for a cancer therapy with a multiple antigen targeting approach combined with the focus on cancer stem cells (CSCs).
IMUC is the first company to attempt, with success, to target several antigens, while other companies such as Dendreon (NASDAQ:DNDN) target just one in its cancer vaccine. But with the success of ICT-107, you can rest assured that other companies will follow its lead, taking us one step closer to curing one of man's most deadly disease. By targeting six antigens, ICT-107 has more ways to kill the cancer cells and form different areas of attack. This fact is why I have often said that ICT-107 could not only be largely successful at treating glioblastoma multiforme, but also a one-stop-shop to treating a number of different cancers over the next few years.
To better explain, think about Dendreon's Provenge. It targets PAP, prostatic acid phosphate, an antigen that is expressed in the prostate tissue of males. It has been found that those with prostate cancer have increased levels of PAP. Provenge works by targeting PAP to fight the cancer. And despite the adoption and logistical issues of Provenge, there is one fact that no one can deny, and that is Provenge is the most effective prostate cancer treatment that is available in the market with its immunotherapy approach, but still only extends life by 4-5 months (which shows the level of progress that must be made in fighting this disease). Ever since Dendreon was awarded an approval with Provenge, other companies have pushed the boundaries of immunotherapy, with one creating a vaccine to target several antigens, ImmunoCellular Therapeutics, which targets six antigens versus Provenge targeting just one.
The reason it is so important for a vaccine to target several antigens is because cancer has the ability to quickly mutate, and even if destroyed, it can come back stronger and in other parts of the body. The "one antigen approach" may work in treating the cancer, but if the cancer evolves or begins to express another antigen then a treatment becomes less effective or even ineffective if it mutates and no longer expresses the original targeted antigen. IMUC's ICT-107 targets the cancer from multiple points, and prevents it from metastasizing into other cancers of the body, therefore blocking many avenues for the cancer to evolve.
The antigens targeted with ICT-107 include the following: HER2, TRP-2, gp100, MAGE-1, IL13Ra2, and AIM-2. HER2 is most commonly discussed in biotechnology and has become a key to treating the recurrence of breast cancer with new candidates currently in clinical trials. Studies have shown that levels of HER2 overexpression increase with disease recurrence; targeting HER2 would contain the recurrence of breast cancer. Besides breast cancer, HER2 is also found expressed in ovarian and stomach cancers. TRP-2, Gp100, and MAGE-1 are all linked to melanoma, while IL13Ra2 is an antigen believed to be linked to a number of different cancers which include: head & neck, ovarian, renal cell carcinoma, lung, kidney, and finally brain cancer. AIM-2 is another antigen that is found expressed in a number of different cancers including: breast, ovarian, colon, and glioblastoma. As you can see, the blend used in ICT-107 has the potential to treat a number of cancers, as the antigens it targets are also expressed in several cancers besides glioblastoma.
One reason there is no cure for cancer is because of the complexity in treating the disease. ICT-107 is the first candidate to test a vaccine on several antigens, although I believe other companies will soon follow its lead. So far it has had the best results in glioblastoma cancer treatment (in early results), with a 38.5% progression-free survival over a period of three years in a disease where only 6% live three years with standard care alone, therefore proving the effectiveness of attacking cancer from various points.
Physicians and scientists have attempted to develop a true cancer cure for decades and for the most part have failed. It is possible that although ICT-107 appears to target some antigens that do not aid in the treatment of glioblastoma it combines to create a balanced treatment for fighting the disease. In my opinion, this is what makes ICT-107 so interesting, because it not only attacks the disease itself, but also prevents it from mutating into other parts of the body via its multi antigen and its anti cancer stem cell approach. In a way, it stops the cancer from mutating before it starts to mutate. It is still early in the study process, but at this point it seems as though the company could have found the holy grail of cancer therapy.
ImmunoCellular Therapeutics hasn't stopped in its goal to create the best possible vaccine. The company could easily be satisfied, finish clinical trials, and if the results are even 25% as good as early trials then it would be awarded an approval and be considered the best treatment in the market. However, it has continued to acquire additional patents and intellectual property and is testing its vaccine on even more antigens than the six being used in ICT-107.
The company has a pipeline of candidates that center around the same concept of using a multiple antigen targeting approach as its ICT-107. Over the last few months IMUC has acquired patents for antigens that are expressed in ovarian, breast, pancreatic, and brain cancers, therefore suggesting that it plans to attempt to treat these particular cancers, seeing as how its other antigens are expressed in these cancers as well as glioblastoma.
At the end of the day IMUC has a great technology with most impressive results, along with a portfolio of 10 patents and nearly 20 pending that should allow patients (and investors) to feel optimistic about the prospects for a very effective means of fighting cancers. ImmunoCellular is blazing a path that other companies will probably follow, and we will see the benefits of targeting several antigens with one vaccine.
Disclosure: I am long IMUC.