With many biotech companies trying to make their mark in immunotherapy, it is easy to get distracted by technical jargon and financial fluctuations in the market, which can lead to investors losing sight of what these biotech companies are trying to achieve. Finding an alternative to the current cancer treatments which cause debilitating side effects and add only a small median of survival time is of immeasurable value to patients and families, and if successful, could represent a nice market boom. In most instances, the alternatives to chemotherapy and radiation are still in varied stages of clinical trails and development. One company showing progress and making their trials accessible to more patients is Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBO.OB).
Northwest Biotherapeutics is a biotechnology company in development stage working to produce innovative therapies that utilize a patient's own dendritic cells (a type of white blood cell) to combat cancer with no debilitating side effects, which are common in most conventional forms of cancer treatment. One of NWBO's leading therapies is the DCVax-L, which is used to treat the most lethal form of brain cancer, Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM). With over ten years of research and development, DCVax is on the cusp of being the new form of treatment for GBM. In a recent press release on October 6th, Northwest Biotherapeutics announced that it has 17 clinical trial sites at major medical institutions, exceeding its third quarter projections of 15 sites. Patients diagnosed with GBM can now enroll in clinical trials of DCVax at these sites across the U.S. Click here for a list of these locations.
At first glance there seem to be few differences between NWBO and its competitors, but it's worthwhile to note one key distinction in the way NWBO runs its trials. ImmunoCellular Therapeutics (NYSEMKT:IMUC) is another company performing a phase 2 study of its immunotherapy treatment of GBM called ICT-107. IMUC uses a standard randomized, double-blind, and placebo control format for Phase 2 clinical trails, wherein a proportion of patients who sign up for trials will not receive the actual immunotherapy, and will instead be given a placebo and used as a control. The specific ratio of patients receiving ICT-107 therapy vs. those receiving a placebo is 2:1, which means that in a study of 200 people, 66 patients are NOT treated with this beneficial therapy. In NWBO's case, on the other hand, the third of patients who randomly receive placebo are given the option of receiving DCVax once the data has been collected. This “cross over” of placebo to recipient allows for all patients in the trial to take advantage of the benefits from this therapy. This new trial design is receiving strong interest from both patients and physicians and if proven successful, could change the way of thinking for future trials.
Chemotherapy and radiation have remained the standard of care for GBM for quite a while. Side effects from this care ranges from hair loss, bleeding/hemorrhage, to holes in the GI tract (which can be fatal) while only increasing the average survival time to 14 months after diagnosis. All of these risks come with an even higher price tag to both patients and the healthcare system. Immunotherapies, while offering no guarantee as of yet (less clinical trial results thus far) appear to significantly alter the cancer with a much less damaging approach for patients. GBM is very resistant to chemotherapy, and the use of radiation makes the brain susceptible to irreversible damage. DCVax uses the patients' own cells to kill the cancer, limiting the amount and severity of side effects while also increasing, to date, the median survival time to 33.8 months. Side effects range from mild skin irritation at the injection site to a low-grade fever, symptoms that are common to receiving even a flu vaccine.
Another company entering Phase 2 clinical trials is big biotech Dendreon Corporation (Nasdaq: DNDN). The firm is currently recruiting participants with high risk HER2+ Urothelial Carcinoma to be treated with their DN24-02 as adjuvant therapy. HER2 (Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2) is a protein which causes a more aggressive cancer with a greater chance of recurrence. A significant development in the treatment of HER2+ Urothelial Carcinoma would be a great achievement for Dendreon, known mainly for its prostate cancer immunotherapy, with applications in treatment of other forms of cancer.
Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBO.OB) last traded at 0.52 with a 1 year target of reaching 4.40. In addition to this company's financial goals, its goal of reaching more patients through its new trial design is something to be respected and considered for a long position.
Adding a new level of transparency for investors, Northwest Biotherapeutics announced on October 25th that Standard and Poor's will now be releasing a weekly updated Factual Stock Report (Initiation of S&P Coverage). These reports will include company initiatives, strategies, and financial/stock information.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.