The Disruptors and Dominators newsletter, one of the “entry level” letters from Weiss, is out pitching a “silver bullet” company — a firm that has developed a universal cancer vaccine.
And, of course, they’ll tell you all about it — for your $49 subscription fee. Here at Stock Gumshoe, we’d like you to think things over first before you start tossing your credit card number around… so we’ll look at their clues, ID the stock for you, then you can decide if you want to sign up for editor Grant Wyslik’s letter (and no, I don’t know the track record — Frank Curzio launched that letter about two years ago, during his very brief tenure at Weiss, but we haven’t seen it promoted all that often lately — Wyslik is fairly new and I’ve never written about him before).
So what is Wyslik pitching? Well, as you might imagine, it’s a smallish biotech stock… let’s get into the clues.
He says that it’s one of the companies developing a listeria-based vaccine, which has been an area of big immunotherapy interest for quite a while (listeria, presumably because it’s such a deadly bacteria, provokes a strong immune response — so if you use a snippet or altered form of it, you can provoke the immune system response without the danger).
And there are plenty of other clues (which is good, because that doesn’t narrow it down to just one company), here’s a taste of the ad:
“But before this company was able to progress towards a vaccine against all cancers, a ‘universal cancer vaccine.’
“It first had to prove that its Trojan Horse vaccine could work against individual cancers.
“And that’s exactly what it’s been doing in clinical trials against a long list of cancers:
Head and neck cancers
“All in all, the company is developing vaccines for 20 different cancers.”
And some examples about performance of the immunotherapy in clinical trials:
“In a Phase 2 trial against late stage, metastasized cervical cancer the Trojan Horse vaccine increased patients’ survival rate by 50%.
“An amazing accomplishment. Considering chemotherapy is only able to increase survival rates by roughly 20%.
“Which explains why AstraZeneca, with a market cap of $70 billion, is now partnering with this company.
“They’re combining the Trojan Horse vaccine with AstraZeneca’s immunotherapy drug Durvalumab to attack cervical cancer, and also head and neck cancers.
“And still another cervical cancer therapy is now in Phase 3 trials — the last trial before approval.”
OK, so two cervical cancer therapies, one of which is a combination therapy with Durvalumab. That probably is enough of a clue, but let’s go on just to be sure.
“Merck & Co. is also partnering with this company. This time to attack prostate cancer.
“They’re combining the Trojan Horse vaccine with Merck’s Keytruda immunotherapy drug.”
OK, so there’s another clue about what’s in the pipeline — and yes, Keytruda is a pretty high-profile immunotherapy, seemingly taking the lead from the other big immunotherapy drug that’s seen success of late, Opdivo from Bristol-Myers. (I don’t follow those closely at all, to be clear, that’s just what I read.)
The ad also lists some other collaborators for this “silver bullet” company:
“Mount Sinai School of Medicine
“Memorial Sloan Kettering
“Brown University Oncology Group
“Baylor College of Medicine
“University of California, San Francisco
“All told, this company has signed 16 agreements with different medical facilities to develop cancer vaccines based on its Trojan Horse vaccine.
“A vaccine platform that’s propelled this company’s stock to a 926% gain in just one year.”
OK, so fine — we’re getting really too many clues here. We don’t even need to change the oil in the Thinkolator to get an answer for you: This is quite clearly Advaxis (ADXS).
So what’s the story with that “bad things happen to good companies” part of the spiel? Here’s how Wasylik puts it in the ad:
“Why this company just may be the bargain investment of the decade — just as Amgen was when it traded for 10 cents a share …
“In October 2015, it was announced that a cervical cancer patient who had been injected with the Trojan Horse vaccine during Phase 2 trials …
“Immediately, the FDA banned any further tests using the vaccine.
“The reaction on the street was swift and merciless….
“The company’s stock dropped a heart-wrenching 79.21%….
“It was revealed that the Trojan Horse vaccine played absolutely no part in the patient’s death….
“The FDA promptly lifted the ban.
“Did Wall Street, much less the average investor notice, or care? No.
“They had already moved on to other things….
“And now this company’s stock is moving higher without the small investor ….”
That clinical hold was from October-December of 2015, so it wasn’t actually all that dramatic a period for Advaxis stock — it had already fallen from a peak of about $27 to roughly $10 before that. I don’t know what the news flow was at the time, or why it fell, and it doesn’t seem like it had that dramatic a fall — the drop from peak to trough was about 80%, from June of 2015 to February of 2016, but that’s going from several months before the clinical hold to a couple months after the hold was lifted, so clearly the clinical hold wasn’t the only issue. The shares fell to about $10 on the clinical hold news, bounced around a bit while folks digested that, then bounced back up to $12 or so after the hold was lifted… and got cut in half again after that (biotech in general was falling back then, too, for whatever that’s worth).
The big “universal vaccine” stuff is not as far along in the pipeline as the partnerships with Merck and AstraZeneca, but it revolves around their deal with Amgen. More from the ad:
“Amgen apparently believes it’s a road worth traveling.
“Which is why it …
“Bought $25 million worth of this company stock
“Paid $40 million to this company in cash, upfront
“Agreed to provide 100% funding for all development and commercialization expenses of the vaccine
“Agreed to pay $475 million in milestone payments
“Plus, make royalty payments into the mid double-digits on all future global sales”
That’s the deal that Advaxis made with Amgen for the MINE program, which they hope to start Phase 1 trials for this year. There’s an interesting story about it here from last Summer if you’d like some background.
MINE (My Immunotherapy Neo-Epitopes) is the latest iteration of the “personalized” cancer vaccine — I guess you can call it a “universal” vaccine if you want, but it’s manufactured individually for each patient, using a biopsy of the tumor. They describe it in broad terms here. It sounds pretty cool and promising, but I know nothing about this stuff — they all sound cool and promising, and so far it seems as though the individually manufactured “personalized immunotherapies” have had trouble getting through to commercial development (Dendreon and Argos Therapeutics come to mind, though it’s quite possible that there are successes I’m unaware of).
And with that, I’ll leave you to cogitate and thinkify on your own — do you expect great things for Advaxis when they start trials with Amgen this year? Think their collaborations will go well or poorly? See some gold at the end of the clinical trial process? Let us know with a comment below.
P.S. Dr. KSS, who writes about biotech stocks for the Irregulars, has been very negative about ADXS in the past. The stock also has a very high short ratio, about 30% of the float is sold short (that ratio has often been high for them). And, perhaps coincidentally, Advaxis was also touted as a small immunotherapy name by Frank Curzio, the prior editor of Disruptors and Dominators, for a previous newsletter of his when he worked for Stansberry in 2014.