Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies involve extracting immune system cells out of the patient’s body, fabricating them through a genetic process to identify cancer, and later infusing them back in the patient’s body where they destroy the cancer cells. Based on a 2015 study, the Swiss giant Novartis reported high success with the therapy, wiping out an advanced form of blood cancer in 93% of children and young adults. (For more, see: Will These Cancer Therapies Pay Off?)
While CAR-T therapy has become the buzzword in the ongoing oncology research, only three companies, Swiss based Novartis AG (NVS), and U.S. based Juno Therapeutics Inc. (JUNO) and Kite Pharma Inc. (KITE), have been in the limelight leading to soaring of their stock prices.
Bellicum Pharmaceuticals Inc. (BLCM) is a small company with around a $510 million market capitalization. Through its dedicated Chemical Induction of Dimerization (CID) platform, it is working on a key complementary technology to CAR-T cell therapy, which could make it a long term winner.
The company developed its CID platform to gain control over cellular function and activities, like production, activation, growth, and death of the cells. The technology uses modified signaling proteins, which act like a molecular switch, and can be triggered inside the patient by infusing small molecules called rimiducid in the patient’s body.
Rimiducid is designed to hold together the CID switch proteins, dubbed by the company as safety switch and activation switch. The company claims that apart from holding the switch proteins, rimiducid does not have any other effect on the body.
Once rimiducid is administered, the safety switch is triggered which is designed to start a programmed and progressive death sequence of the affected cells. The activation switch is designed to start proliferation, activation, and persistence of the immune cells. The end result is a cascade of such signals which leads to rapid destruction of cancerous cells and spread of immune cells.
The CID technology can supplement for more secure and more effective administration of CAR-T therapies where engineered cells are infused in the body to fight cancer cells. The CID switches can offer an efficient mode to enhance the cancer cell fighting abilities of engineered cells, through its cascading trigger based approach. (For more, see New CAR-T Cell Therapy May Cure Tumors.)
The stock price of Bellicum has increased by two and a half times between April to October this year. From a low of $7.76 per share around April start, the price has been hovering around the highs of $20.85 since late September.