Battling Cancer with Life and Death—of Cells

In this week’s spotlight, we’re going to take a look at two different methods that are coming to the forefront of the battle against cancer: immune-oncology and cell apoptosis. If these names sound as confusing to you as they do to us, don’t worry; these technologies are actually much easier to wrap your mind around that you might at first think. The two companies we are also going to mention today come from each end of the size spectrum for biotech: one is AbbVie (ABBV), a large, well-known name, while the other is the much smaller Soligenix (SNGX), which we are following here at BTA. Using the Immune System to Fight Cancer   Let’s start with AbbVie, which has been in the news recently with FDA approval of its new drug elotuzamab, which is designed to treat those with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, in a revolutionary new way. Usual cancer treatments involve chemotherapy or radiation, but the side-effect of these treatments is that they treat cancerous cells and non-cancerous (“normal”) cells equally—they kill them both. Immuno-oncology takes a different approach: it is the use of drugs to help our bodies’ own immune system (the same system that fights our colds and flus) to fight cancer. Because cancerous cells grow so quickly and are not foreign to the body, sometimes the immune system needs assistance in fighting them. This is where immuno-oncology comes in. By helping the body’s immune system to fight the cancerous cell, this type of therapy attempts to target those cancerous cells without causing damage to the other cells in the body. Sometimes that requires specifically-targeted approaches....

Building Blocks and Cancer: Using Nanotech to Diagnose Pancreatic Cancer

The Undetected How does one detect a disease with few signs, a disease whose symptoms may not manifest for months, years—even a decade? If a collection of researchers from a number of universities (including Indiana, Purdue, and the Indiana Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center) is correct in their latest findings, the answer may be found in a fundamental building block of human life. Using nanotechnology, these researchers have designed a microRNA sensor to diagnose pancreatic cancer before it spreads to other organs, which limits the options available to treat it. Among the companies we follow at BTA is Merrimack Pharmaceuticals (MACK), whose Onivyde drug (which recently obtained FDA approval) has focused on the treatment of pancreatic cancer to increase the life expectancy of those with the diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer. But often, by the time drugs like Onivyde come into play, the cancer is so far along that the life expectancy, even with such drugs, is less than one year. These researchers are hoping to change that. Are MicroRNAs the “Tell”? Because it can exist without demonstrating symptoms for a decade or longer, pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose. However, studies have shown that microRNAs may hold the key. MicroRNAs are stretches of RNA (like its cousin “DNA,” RNA is involved in the regulation and expression of our genes) that, as described by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, “regulate the expression or silencing of mRNA molecules.” The regulatory nature of these molecules has been shown to play a role in carcinogenesis, and they have been located in the bloodstream of pancreatic cancer patients, among other patients with certain tumors....

Investing on the Merits, not the Memes

It’s a common occurrence in the biotech sector; a company is doing fantastically, their stock rising, due to great news about their product, and then all of a sudden someone you’ve never heard of, someone who is “short the stock” (we’ll talk about what that means in a second) comes out and says the stock is worthless and, in the blink of an eye, the stock price tumbles. What should you do? Jump out with the crowd? Assume that the short seller is right? Or hold on tight? Let’s start with a disclaimer in the style of the short sellers who are the topic of this blog post: some of the affiliates or members of BTA have long positions in the two companies, AVXL and APDN, that we are about to mention. That’s because our point here today is not whether you can or should invest in any biotech company; it’s about what you should, and shouldn’t, look for when making those decisions. Anavex Life Sciences – What Happened? Anavex Life Sciences (AVXL) is a company working on Alzheimer’s solutions that we at BTA have been following for a while, and last week, following the release of an abstract (or pre-release summary) of news about their product testing, their stock began to freefall. This came on the heels of a tweet by Martin Shkreli, a hedge fund manager: $AVXL looks worthless. Compound is uM for sigma receptor (meaningless affinity) and rest of muscarinic. Co. confused if its agonist or ant. — Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) November 5, 2015 If the name of Shkreli sounds familiar, it should. He is the...

‘Brain Training’ for Older Adults

It’s a common reality for too many to find a missing pair of keys perhaps in the pantry, or in the fridge, with an elderly family member in the house. But can something as a simple as a game make a difference? King’s College London signed up 7,000 people aged 50 and over for an experiment studying the effects of mental exercises and “brain training” online games on helping older people with “everyday skills.” Those over 60 years old who played the games at least five times a week were better able to perform “essential everyday tasks” such as “shopping and cooking”, according to their reported scores. The BBC quotes Dr. Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society as saying, “Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do.” He admits, however, that there is still a long way to go to determine whether these types of games can actually prevent or reverse dementia. But while many firms in the biotechnology firm, such as Anavex Life Sciences (AVXL), which we follow here at Bell Tower Associates, are looking to the brain and receptors for a solution to the question of reversing Alzheimer’s, steps like brain games can be a first step to using the power and flexibility of the brain itself to delay or mitigate the onset of dementia or cognitive...

What do the NASDAQ Biotech Index and Biotech Stocks have in common?

The News can Hurt Sometimes Biotechnology firms have been suffering recently due to a barrage of negative news. Martin Shkreli, former hedge-fund manager, now CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, attempted to spike the price of the drug Daraprim to $750 per pill. Some claim that this is not unusual for pharmaceutical companies producing rarely-used drugs, and that Shkreli was simply to brazen about the news. Regardless, the news of the price hike attracted the attention of presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, who called the price hike “outrageous” and decided to announce that if elected, she would propose government intervention in the price of pharmaceutical drugs. That’s when it hit. Biotech stocks have dropped, and are still dropping, as a result of Clinton’s comments and the public backlash, but all is not lost! Remember, research is our best friend and it is good to remind ourselves to keep it in mind! For instance, Bell Tower Associates’ Correlation Study showed how individual biotech stocks are not correlated to the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index. What does that mean exactly? It means that not all biotech stocks are going to plummet simply because the NASDAQ is going down. For example, let’s look at Anavex Life Sciences (AVXL) again: If you notice, Anavex has not even been hit by the recent turn of events. It has stayed calm and collected; trading around the same 1.3 it has been for about a month. The NASDAQ, on the other hand, has fallen precipitously. It does not take a portfolio analyst to realize that these two are hardly correlated at all! This is just a reminder that, as stated...

Navigating the Biotechnology Sector

Getting started Buying a stock in general is a difficult decision. Will it go up? Down? Flat-line? Squiggle around in a chart on that one website I saw? The list of questions goes on. Some people can be paralyzed by the prospect of looking at a stock, much less buying one. All those different graphs and opinions! Doesn’t have to be that difficult. Having useful information and research behind you can push you in the right direction. What is biotech? Biotechnology has been around for thousands of years. It’s when someone uses living organisms to develop or create products. Some believe that the definition of biotechnology even extends to just simple agriculture: growing food! Some start with the making of beer. Now while you may know that one guy who will forever be claiming he’s a biotech engineer because he makes craft beer, in modern times, biotechnology usually refers to creating medicines or using technology to solve a wide range of medical issues in the 21st century. Why the biotech industry? Investors who look at stocks almost always take into consideration the industry itself. Where’s it going and where’s it been? If you’re buying an oil rig, you check the price of oil, car sales, etc. You find out what’s moving in the economy. Much, though not all, of the biotech industry rests on the fact that disease, sickness, and aging are still a part of life. Right now at least, someone, somewhere, is unfortunately going to be well. Someone else, fortunately, is always going to try to solve the issue. Biotechnology is at the forefront of solving these...