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“UCLA Researchers Stunned by Nobel Prize-Winning Cancer Breakthrough
“One Little Shot to Kill Cancer Dead
“Proven in clinical trials to eliminate lethal forms of cancer with a single dose
“One small company owns the patent to this life-saving treatment
“Its $5 shares are projected to surge 2,700% on an imminent FDA announcement”
That intro comes to us courtesy of an ad for Smart Tech Investor and Dr. Joe Duarte, who is apparently their Head Biotech Analyst (the newsletter is helmed by Jim Pearce still, as far as I can tell, and hasn’t been particularly biotech-focused in the past). Lots of readers have asked about this one, as you can imagine — who wouldn’t want to “kill cancer dead” and get 2,700% returns?
So what stock are they hinting about as they fish for new subscribers? Let’s see what else they say about it…
“A Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough proven to cure mankind’s worst disease… sometimes with just a single dose.
“I call them ‘Alpha Cells.’
“And while I doubt 1 in 1,000 Americans has ever heard of them…
“Cancer centers across America are buzzing with the results of this life-saving therapy.
“Leaders in the medical community can barely contain their enthusiasm.
“Like Edgar Engelman, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of pathology and medicine at Stanford, whose groundbreaking research shows, ‘We could use [Alpha Cells] to eliminate any kind of cancer.’
“Or Harmon Eyre, Vice President of Research at the American Medical Association, whose lengthy studies on Alpha Cells have revealed, ‘Patients’ responses are far out of proportion to anything that any current cancer therapy could do.’
“And then there’s Neil Martin, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of Neurosurgery at UCLA, who reveals in a new study that ‘[Alpha Cells] offer the best hope for a cure.’
“Over 1,065 clinical studies confirm its cancer-killing potential.”
So there you go, some kind of hot cancer drug technology, and they think they’ve found the stock that will profit from it. Those references are all to broader classes of drugs or therapies, though, not specific to “just one company” … seems to me they’re teasing the very idea of cancer immunotherapy, though that’s just conjecture from those quotes… so how do we narrow it down?
With more clues, of course!
They tell the story of Ralph Steinman, who discovered the power of dendritic cells to active the immune response (including to cancer), and who used that discovery to help prolong his own life after he was found to have cancer (he has passed away now, receiving the Nobel Prize after his death), and apparently the company he helped found to advance his research is the target of this teaser pitch. Here are a few of those clues:
“Dr. Steinman was already famous in the medical community for his cancer-killing discovery of our immune system’s ‘Alpha Cells.’
“But now his life’s work left the laboratory for a real-life battle against cancer—his own.
“He didn’t have time for new drug development or FDA clinical trials.
“And he knew chemo and radiation were non-options.
“So he contacted a small company—one he had helped found—to quickly put together an “Alpha Cells” treatment. His treatment was specifically personalized for his cancer.
“His own treatment became a living testimony to the power of ‘Alpha Cells’…
“His treatment had enabled him to live for more than four years beyond expectations, effectively prolonging his survival rate 13 times over…
“All without side effects.
“During that time, he was able to continue his groundbreaking work and research… research that has helped save so many lives.
“Research that won the Nobel Prize—the only one EVER awarded posthumously.
“And his legacy lives on.
“Less than a year later, the FDA granted the company behind his ‘Alpha Cells’ therapy a rare legal designation…
“One that’s moved it quickly through clinical trials to phase 3….”
So that’s who they’re hinting at — a little stock about to have late-stage clinical results for what is presumably an immunotherapy drug based on these dendritic cells. And we’re told that the opportunity is breathtakingly lucrative:
“The FDA recently granted this technology an unusual legal ruling.
“This ruling could send the tiny $5 stock leading this development surging to $12… $60… and as high as $136.
“When all is said and done, early investors could see immediate gains of 2,700%.
“That’s 27 times your money.
“Enough to turn every $10,000 into $270,000—potentially in just a few months.
“This is one of the best medical investments I’ve seen in decades.”
Hinting at 2,700% returns at all, let alone “in just a few months,” is obviously absurd… but we do still want to know what the stock is. Any other details to give the Thinkolator a good shot at a certain answer?
“its patented technology is poised to be a first-line cancer treatment in hospitals and clinics worldwide…
“… the FDA’s ruling has ‘tipped its hand’ that approval is pretty much a done deal…
“… insiders are loading up on shares in a buying frenzy like I’ve never seen before….”
And the ad includes a few anecdotal stories of patients who had their lives saved or vastly extended by this treatment, specific stories that help us narrow it down, and finally we’re given the details behind that “urgency” in the ad, and some justification for the 2,700% target:
“My stock pick’s ‘Alpha Cells’ treatment specifically targets kidney cancer.
“And according to a new report from Transparency Research—a top industry research service—the market for kidney cancer is projected to reach $4.5 billion by 2020.
“My pick’s phase 2 trials already proved it’s more effective and safer than the world’s best renal cancer drug.
“So this is poised to become a first-line treatment in this multibillion-dollar market.
“But let’s be conservative and say that these ‘Alpha Cells’ treatments grab only a fraction of sales—$1.125 billion.
“Based on an industry average price-to-sales ratio of 10.3, we’re looking at a one-year target share price of $136.
“Considering you can own the stock today for $5, that’s an astronomic 27-fold jump.”
Well, if the Thinkolator is correct you can actually buy this one, if you’re so inclined, for more like $2.50 today — it was at $5 a couple months back, but has fallen precipitously during the recent market swoon. It’s not the only biotech to be thus afflicted, to be sure, but it’s been falling.
Who is it? This must be Argos Therapeutics (ARGS), which is a personalized dendritic cancer “vaccine” company whose technology, which they call Arcelis, looks like it’s at least an iterative improvement over Dendreon’s once lauded and now failed (at least commercially) Provenge — extract and somehow superpower someone’s dendritic cells so they can become immune T-cell boosters, prepare them into a treatment, and inject that treatment back into the patient and let the “vaccine” attack the cancer cells. From what they say in their presentations it’s not quite as challenging a logistics project as Dendreon’s Provenge was, so perhaps they’ll avoid Dendreon’s fate if they get that far (Dendreon is currently in bankruptcy proceedings, FYI). but it’s still far more challenging (and expensive, one assumes) than a non-personalized treatment. I don’t know much about them (they’ve come up before in my articles, but only once that I can remember — they were teased by the Stansberry folks in the Fall of 2014).
The patient stories are mostly about folks treated by NW Biotherapeutics, a different company which is doing similar work with a focus on brain cancer — Argos is the one doing dendritic “vaccine” development for kidney cancer (and it’s also the one that was co-founded by Dr. Steinman). Both are similarly priced right now, by the way, and both have lost 2/3 of their value in the past year. ARGS had its IPO almost exactly two years ago now at about $8 (well below the expected $15), NWBO has been public for much longer, both are pretty close to all-time lows. ARGs is a much smaller company than NWBO, which is saying something — NWBO has a market cap around $200 million, ARGS is down at only $50 million.
What else makes them a match? Well, besides the therapeutic focus, the cancer “vaccine” talk, and the founder being matches, they have had a consistent record of insider buying — the purchases aren’t huge, but several officers and directors have been buying ARGS pretty consistently since August, without much regard to price (they’ve bought at $6, $5, $4, $2, even down at $1.80 at the December nadir).
What’s not a simple match? I’m not sure what the April 30 date is all about, from what I’ve seen from ARGS they expect their data from the critical Phase III trial to come out “mid 2016″ and lead, they hope, to a final application to the FDA for approval (final data’s not expected until April 2017 according to clinicaltrials.gov, but perhaps they won’t need to wait for that). They are already operating the trials under a Special Protocol Assessment and have Fast Track designation from the FDA, which can certainly be valuable and would speed up approval if they get to that point.
Whether this ends up getting approved in the next year or two and turns into a major commercial success in renal cell cancer, I don’t know — that looks like it’s a very, very competitive space even beyond the Sutent drug from Pfizer that ARGS has been testing with and against, as Afinitor from Novartis and Opdivo from Bristol Myers and Cabozantinib from Exelixis are all showing promise in that indication as well, among probably others that aren’t as far along in development (I’m no expert in this at all, those are just names that came up in my browsing). Afinitor and Sutent are in the billion-dollar range when it comes to sales, though they’re also owned by massive companies (Pfizer and Novartis) who own lots of other drugs, so I don’t know that you can necessarily claim that a billion-dollar potential market for a good drug means the drug is automatically worth $10 billion… and, of course, you can’t really compare a personalized vaccine to a drug when it comes to price (to the consumer or insurer), possible production scale, or cost to produce, as Dendreon learned the hard way.
Does that mean Argos is going to soar? I have no idea. It hasn’t come up in our biotech discussion much of late (though Dr. KSS has noted a skepticism about other dendritic vaccine immunotherapies in the past), but it’s also a very, very small company so it doesn’t take much attention to move the shares pretty sharply, either up or down. From what I can tell, they are counting on their results in the next several months being solid enough to help them raise more money — they will presumably need either a major partner or major equity raise to get through their next stage toward commercialization, but it looks like their financing can probably keep them going until they get more data in the first half of this year.
And that’s about all I can tell you — it’s a tiny company, and it looks like the next six months will be critical for their financial health. Perhaps they do have some sort of presentations or interim data likely as soon as April 30, but they have at least said that they should have news from the ongoing Phase III clinical trial sometime in the first half of this year. I’ll be a little surprised if that causes the stock to run up 2,700%, but, well, crazy things happen sometimes. And, obviously, saying it won’t go up by 2,700% is easy because that’s a stupid promise… I have no guess as to whether the stock might rise from here by some more moderate amount. Certainly, if their Arcelis technology is worth anything at all (I don’t know whether it is or not, but they’ve spent a couple hundred million developing it over 20 years, so it would be a shame if it’s worthless now), then the stock is probably oversold at this point as investors throw away lots of speculative “pre-revenue” stocks in technology and biotech… but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to recover, particularly if they have weak news out this year and have to figure out how to raise money to keep going.
For the rest of the assessment of this specific company and their prospects, I’ll leave it to you, dear Gumshoe readers — have a good or bad feeling about Argos? Think there’s some better renal cancer “vaccine” that the Thinkolator missed? Let us know with a comment below.
– Best stock investments