Today I thought I’d finally take a look at the “warrior antibodies” teaser that’s been circulating for a few weeks now — I know a few of my readers have already figured this one out, but I continue to get questions about this tease every day. So … answers?
The teaser is that there’s a “small lab 35 miles north of Washington D.C.” where a discovery was made that could save the lives of 7.6 million people a year. And the ad is for the Money Map Report (which, probably coincidentally, is published about 35 miles north of Washington, DC in Baltimore, MD), which Here’s how they put it:
“Not the Salk vaccine… nor penicillin… nor even open-heart surgery can compare to the life-saving potential of this revolutionary new drug.
“The breakthrough I’m talking about is a ‘smart’ drug, made possible by the advances from the Human Genome Project.
“You see, this new drug treatment unleashes holy hell on cancer. And it does so with more savage effectiveness than anything in use today.”
The story is that this new drug treatment works by turning your own cells into these “warrior cells” or “warrior antibodies”, and that those cells will clone themselves and evolve alongside the cancer cells, wiping them out.
Which would, of course, be delightful — there probably isn’t one among us who hasn’t lost someone to cancer, or seen a loved one suffer in the fight against any of a variety of terrible forms of this disease.
That’s why cancer is by far the biggest target for biotech firms aiming to make a splash and build an empire to rival early titans Amgen and Genentech — not only do they do tremendous good if they develop a treatment that’s better than the current standard, but the market is massive if you develop a drug that works against one of the “big” cancers (lung, colon, breast, etc.) … to say nothing of that fact that once a cancer drug is developed, it sometimes turns out to work really well on other forms of cancer as well.
Of course, cancer is a tricky beast to beat … or we would have cured it by now. And most little biotech companies end up like most junior miners, they don’t find anything valuable, they burn through their cash, and they go quietly into the good night (and then the same team starts a new company with a slightly different idea, gets venture funding, and starts over!)
But when you find the right little biotech that really makes a big discovery and can develop it into a meaningful drug, the performance can be overwhelming — so like all investors, we remain at least a little tempted by these pitches … even if we know that an idea that seems to work great in early stage studies could easily flame out.
So let’s find out which one is being touted here, shall we?
Here’s a bit more detail from the teaser ad:
“In one study, nearly four out of five patients have been left free of the disease following treatment… even after 12 other regimens failed.
“And it works with no harmful side effects… no pain… and no debilitating sickness that comes from chemo and radiation.
“For millions of people, it stands to be nothing short of a miracle.
“Scientific journals are now reporting that this treatment ‘attacks late stage cancer,’ and is ‘safe and effective, even at relatively low doses.’
“Another article says: When this ‘smart drug’ is released into the bloodstream, it ‘not only summon[s] the immune cells to attack the cancer, [it] also stimulate[s] the body to produce more of the cells, thus replenishing its armies.’
“The company that invented this new drug technology is small. It has a market cap just over $500 million.
“We estimate that this small company’s stock price is poised to gap up by as much as 2,000%, perhaps starting in a matter of days and weeks.
“It’s trading around $7 a share today. That means it’s cheap as can be – and with enough shares to go around.”
They also call this “Programmed Cell Destruction (PCD),” and the teasermeisters tell us that they think the news media will start picking up the idea soon, building intensity until it hits “60 MInutes” and gets real mainstream attention … of course, since you’re so “in the know,” you’ll be ready to profit well before anyone else hears about it!
And they throw out a few examples of some of the blockbuster cancer drugs and the billion+ dollar sales figures they generate, drugs like Rituxan, Avastin and Herceptin from Genentech and Erbitux from Bristol-Myers Squibb, which have certainly been a boon to some patients and many investors.
You can see the original ad here if you’re interested in all the details that they pitch, but they go on to describe the action of this drug — it basically helps T-cells find and “lock on” to cancer cells through something that we’re told is called “cytolitic synapse,” kill the cells through that “programmed cell death”, and then break off to kill the next cancer cell, and all the while T-cells are multiplying and finding and killing more cancer cells.
Or at least, that’s how I understand the story — in case you haven’t guessed, there were some broad concepts in chemistry and biology in high school that just didn’t make it through my skull. But I think I get the general idea.
And for our purpose as investors, it’s exciting enough that our intrepid teaser copywriter tells us that “estimates show” that this drug and the company’s technology could “dwarf the $5.6 billion in sales of the current top cancer treatment.”
We even get some quotes thrown in from a variety of scholarly sources — here’s one of them, with, of course, the name of the drug redacted:
“‘Results indicate that [PCD] is able to locate and eradicate rare disseminated tumor cells in the bone marrow.’ – Journal of Cancer Research.”
And the ad also furthers our impression that this newsletter has access to “in the know” information, which of course, is supposed to make the subscription sound more valuable…
“In fact, just days ago we gained access to transcripts from a private conference call where a small group of clinical research experts discussed ‘PCD.’
“One researcher said:
“‘There is no similar drug for a patient with persistent disease that you can give one to two times that will potentially eradicate their disease.’
“Another expert put it more succinctly…
“‘This is a major breakthrough.’”
So what stock are we talking about? Well, that T-cell-connecting-to-the-cancer-cell technology is called the BiTE (Bi-specific T-cell Engager) antibody platform, and the company that developed and owns it is Micromet (MITI — if you like charts and technical trading, click here for a free trend analysis from Marketclub, one of my advertising partners)
And yes, the description of the way that these BiTE thingamajobs (not the term they used) work is essentially the same on Micromet’s website as it is in the teaser ad.
The quotes from researchers and cancer experts in the tease also all lead to Micromet, as does the report about performance in early stage trials — if you want a more plain-language article about this technology and their performance so far, there was a pretty good piece from Bloomberg over the summer (many of the quotes in the ad are from this article).
What Micromet is doing is essentially similar to other “next generation” drugs and technologies that are trying to leverage the immune system to fight off cancer — similar to Dendreon’s (DNDN) Provenge “vaccine” that has alternately enthralled and panicked investors in recent years, and along the same lines as other biotechs that are often teased like Seattle Genetics (SGEN) and Immunogen (IMGN).
Beyond that, you’re on your own as you try to decide whether Micromet has a place in your portfolio — their lead compound is in Phase 2 trials, so there’s certainly nothing definite (as there almost never is for early stage drugs), but one strong positive is that they have those five research collaborations and partnerships with deep-pocketed big pharma companies, and they have a dozen or so compounds being developed, with about half of them in clinical trials, which means they don’t have to be a “one trick pony” and win with this first drug (though of course, if that drug ultimately fails because of a problem with the core BiTE technology that would be a big problem for the company, since all their drugs and partnerships are based on extending that technology).
And also thanks to those partnerships, they’ve got plenty of cash — it may or may not be enough to really develop all of the drugs that they currently own full rights to (haven’t partnered), but it’s certainly enough to last a while and they’re not necessarily going to have to go running to the public markets to sell stock anytime soon (they’ve certainly done so in the past, however, there are twice as many shares outstanding now as there were in 2008 — like the big cash pile, this is not unusual for a exploratory biotech stock, they traditionally fund themselves by selling equity and partnering compounds since they can go decades without any “real” revenue before drugs are developed).
So there you have it — do you think Micromet will turn your dollar into $20 as the tease implies (or more accurate, your $7.50 into $150)? The shares have been bouncing around between $6 and $8 for a year or so, but certainly these kinds of news-driven stocks can move quickly (they’ve had quick moves both down and up in the past).
They release earnings on November 9, but that tends to be a non-event for most biotech stocks (there are no earnings, after all, and usually precious little in the way of good things to say financially), but they do present at a couple investor conferences before the end of the year, and one never knows when new partnerships will be announced or clinical trial results will be released (especially if one hasn’t looked into their conference calls, as I have not — the lead drug’s latest phase 2 study started just a few weeks ago and gave no precise end date). I’ve speculated in some little biotechs in the past, but it usually turns out that I’m pretty bad at it, and I have no particular affinity for interpreting their clinical results, so I won’t burden you with much more of an opinion from yours truly. Zack’s released a neutral note about them a little while back, analysts think they’ll continue losing money next year at roughly the same pace as 2010, and there have been just a few bloggers sharing their MITI opinions over at SeekingAlpha.
If you’ve got an opinion on MITI, feel free to share with the class — that’s why we have the friendly little comment box below, after all. And if you’ve an opinion about the Money Map Report, investors everywhere would love to hear it — you can click here to review that newsletter or click here to see the existing reviews that we have on file. Thank you!