Argos Therapeutics Helps Kidney Cancer Patients Live Longer
Cancer immunotherapy is a treatment that uses a patient’s own immune cells to attack malignant cancer cells. The treatment involves the creation of antibodies that grab onto target proteins that normally prevent immune cells from attacking cancer. By blocking the activity of these proteins, the immune cell is free to fight the disease. Merck, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and others are all developing antibodies that can use the immune system to fight cancer. These companies are targeting a subset of cancer types, mainly melanoma, lung, breast, and kidney cancers, and developing compounds that help patients with these cancers live longer.
In the broad spectrum of cancer types, there are only around 208,500 new cases of kidney cancer diagnosed in the world each year which account for just under 2% of all cancers. One company that is in a Phase 3 clinical study treatment for a personalized immunotherapy treatment for advanced kidney cancer is Argos Therapeutics.
About Argos Therapeutics
Argos Therapeutics (NASDAQ:ARGS) was founded in May 1997. From inception through March 31, 2014, the Company had raised a total of $351.0 million in cash from sale of common stock ($215.3 million), technology licenses ($33.9 million), and government contracts, grants, and license and collaboration agreement ($102.8 million). As of March 31, 2014, Argos Therapeutics had an accumulated deficit of $160.9 million and $33 million in cash on hand. The Company had an IPO in February of this year under the symbol ARGS with shares having gained around +60% just one month later. Fast forward to today and an investor who bought and held ARGS on the first day of trading would have paper losses of around -13% today.
The Arcelis Technology Platform
The cancer immunotherapy platform being developed by Argos Therapeutics is called Arcelis, a fully personalized mRNA-loaded dendritic cell immunotherapy based on the work of Argos’s Nobel Prize-winning co-Founder, Ralph Steinman. While the name of the technology sounds intimidating to those of us without medical backgrounds, the process itself is simple and best described in a recent article in the MIT Technology Review as follows:
Argos’s therapy begins with a piece of a tumor removed in cancer surgery. From that bit of biological material, scientists at the company extract RNA, the molecular cousin of DNA, which represents all active genes in the tumor cells. The collection of active genes then becomes a vaccine for the patient’s immune system. Two or three weeks after the cancer surgery, doctors collect white blood cells from the patient in a process similar to blood donation. Those immune system cells then get shipped to Argos, which modifies them with the tumor genes and some chemicals so that they learn to target the mutations found specifically in a patient’s own cancer cells. The cells then alert other immune system cells to attack the cancer.
The company’s lead product candidate using the Arcelis platform is AGS-003, a compound targeting kidney cancer that has been granted Special Protocol Assessment by the FDA and received Fast Track designation. A 450 patient, pivotal Phase 3 ongoing randomized study is currently underway for AGS-003 and is expected to be fully enrolled in mid-2015 with final study data by mid-2016.
Their second Arcelis product candidate, AGS-004, is being developed for the treatment of HIV and they are conducting a phase 2b clinical trial of AGS-004 that is being funded entirely by the National Institute of Health under a $39.3 million contract with data expected in mid-2014.
While there is no indication as to the success Argos is having with their 450-patient study of their kidney cancer candidate AGS-003, a recent article by MIT Technology Review stated that patients with advanced kidney cancer are living nearly three times as long as they normally do after being treated with AGS-003. The article stated that in an experiment involving 21 patients, around half lived more than two and a half years after diagnosis with kidney cancer that had begun to spread. Five of the patients in the experiment are still alive after more than five years.
Presently Argos Therapeutics (NASDAQ:ARGS) is trading at $6.90 per share, just 13.5% off of their 53-week low of $6.21. For a company with a large potential market (> $2 billion by their estimates for kidney cancer), a fast-tracked product candidate that is in pivotal Phase 3 trials, and $33 million cash on hand, a current market cap of $136 million seems rather small.
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