Ridiculously huge gains are nothing new in biotech — they may not come easy, but they are sorely tempting… and, unlike with most “boring” companies that have ongoing businesses and have to build and compound to create lasting wealth, they can create fantastical gains almost overnight on the strength of a breakthrough clinical trial result or a buyout from a big pharmaceutical company. So hope springs eternal.
And, of course, where there’s hope — there’s a dream-seller. In this case, it’s Stephen Petranek, who does a nice job of pitching fantastic scientific breakthroughs and medical marvels and getting Gumshoe readers excited. This time, he’s selling us on the idea of “iCells” that he says can cure cancer, and he’d like you to sign up for a subscription to Breakthrough Technology Alert ($1,500) to find out who it is.
So… shall we get you the answer the Gumshoe way? A bit more free-ish, perhaps? Indeed.
In fact, we got this answer to you back in October, when Petranek started pitching this company… but that was in a Friday File for the Irregulars (who have coughed up $49 for the privilege of a bit of extra weekly blather from yours truly, and because they value the warm, fuzzy feeling that Irregulars membership provides), and I don’t think I’ve mentioned the stock in our free articles. There’s been some discussion of this teaser among our readers, but I’ve been asked by a bunch of folks to “confirm” which stock it is… so let’s get to it.
The ad has changed a bit since Petranek touted the same company last Fall — it opens not with x-ray scans of a woman whose non-hodgkins lymphoma was cleared up by “these cells,” but with x-ray scans of two men whose similar cancers (DLBCL, in this case) were cleared away, at least according to the clear scans that show the before and after pictures. This time, though, we’ve got a bit more of a direct connection to the company being teased — the scans aren’t from a different company’s historical treatment using a similar approach, but from this actual company’s research being conducted by Steven Rosenberg at the National Cancer Institute.
Here’s a bit more from the ad about the impressive remission shown in the scans:
“… the sudden and unexpected changes weren’t from a drug.
“None of them went on a crazy natural health cure.
“And prayer alone didn’t heal these patients (although there’s certainly no doubt that their prayers have been answered).
“Instead, all of the people in the pictures you’ve just seen were given a groundbreaking new cancer treatment.
“And to say the results were astonishing would be an understatement…
“Even the doctors and researchers themselves were amazed – let alone the people whose lives it has saved.
“Of the 13 evaluable participants in the trial, four saw their cancer go into partial remission. And eight saw their cancer go into complete remission.”
Some more about the results…
“… doctors at the National Cancer Institute took a little of each patient’s blood and reprogrammed some of their T cells – making them smart enough to spot cancer cells and kill them with a vengeance.
“And suddenly, thanks to little more than having their own white blood cells made smarter, 12 of them knew they had beaten back cancer and were going to live.
“Doctors are calling them “engineered T cells,” but members of my staff have taken to calling them intelligent cells, or “iCells.”
“Liver tumors… pelvic tumors… abdominal tumors… lung tumors – the outcomes have been nothing short of breathtaking.”
And the big, blue-sky promise:
“If iCells replace just 10% of those far more painful and far less promising treatments, the little-known company responsible for them will be transformed into one of the largest biotech companies in the world – catapulting its shares sky-high.
“… you could be looking at a chance to make more than SEVENTEEN TIMES your money in as little as 24 months.”
So… yes, the company being teased by Petranek is still Kite Pharma (KITE), a still-pretty-new cancer immunotherapy biotech that went public almost exactly a year ago, peaked in January, then got cut in half over the subsequent months and is just starting to go up again (it’s still down 30% from the January highs… though up 100% from where it was trading immediately after the IPO a year ago).
The wild moves of these early-stage biotechs are stomach churning for many investors, but the promise of huge new developments keeps the sector intensely interesting — that’s why so many of our readers enjoy the biotech discussions helmed by our guest columnist Dr. KSS (he writes for the Irregulars a couple times a month, and often participates actively in the followup discussions), and why I don’t dabble much in biotech stocks myself (don’t have the stomach for it, or the time or inclination to develop the sector expertise… and, of course, I don’t want to trade on stocks whose price might be influenced by Dr. KSS’s columns).
So I can’t claim any expertise on Kite Pharma, and I don’t own it — but we did cover it back in October when the earlier version of the ad ran, and I’ve just opened up that older Friday File article for everyone to read if you’re interested.
Kite has developed a system for engineering a patient’s own cancer-fighting T cells (CAR-T is the term usually used for this category of treatments, though Kite calls theirs Engineered Autologous T Cell Therapy (eACT) and has a lead program, KTE-C19, focused particularly on Chimeric Antigen Receptors), and it seems to work awfully well — but we’re also at very early stages, with several substantial competitors and significant events coming this year as Kite enrolls and starts treating patients in several Phase 1/2 trials for KTE-C19. There seems to be no real consensus about just how safe this therapy is… particularly compared with other promising treatments for whichever variety of cancer it is you’re dealing with… so it’s probably good that they’re first going after “orphan” diseases, like DLBCL, for patients who have few other options and little hope.
I have no idea how it will go, and KITE still does get discussed quite a bit in Dr. KSS’s comment threads so those who are really interested in it are probably already following it more closely than I do. The company has a pretty good investor presentation up on their website (the images from the ad are taken from this presentation) that provides some overview, and they’re hosting an investor day next week and should be coming out with quite a bit of news, particularly on their KTE-C19 CAR program, over the next twelve months or so.
So … there you have it: yes, “iCells” is teasing Kite Pharma and their eACT technology, it has cleared up tumors in early studies, and where we go from here is beyond my guessing. Enjoy!