CAR-T Cell Companies Juno Therapeutics, Kite Pharma, and ZIOPHARM, Inc. Get Stock Jitters on Disappointing Novartis AG Trial News

Published: Apr 22, 2015

CAR-T Cell Companies Juno Therapeutics, Kite Pharma, and ZIOPHARM, Inc. Get Stock Jitters on Disappointing Novartis AG Trial News
April 21, 2015
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Several biopharma stocks danced around based on conflicting data presented at the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting on April 19 in Philadelphia. Novartis presented data on a small study involving CAR-T therapy, which had overall disappointing results, but some interesting potential positive findings as well.

CAR-T therapy involves removing particular white cells from the body, T cells, attaching a fragment of an antibody that recognizes and targets specific cancer cells, and reinfuse them back into the patient. Essentially this programs the patient’s immune system to attack tumor cells. This technique has shown effectiveness and reasonable safety against blood cancers like leukemias and lymphomas.

At Sunday’s AACR meeting, Switzerland-based Novartis presented data of a Phase I study involving six patients who received CAR-T therapy after traditional therapies failed for ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma. The trial met its primary goal of safety, with no negative side effects after 28 days of treatment. However, the tumors did not shrink.

The company plans to continue to a larger trial with higher dosages, now that the safety data has been collected. “At the beginning we had to go slow because of safety concerns,” said University of Pennsylvania oncologist Janos Tanyi, one of the trial scientists, in a statement. “I expect much more effectiveness,” in the larger study.

On a positive note, malignant cancer cells around the lungs of one of the patients was cleared during the treatment, which is promising, although modest.

took a little drop at the news on opening on Monday, selling for $102.36 early in the day and dropping slightly to $102.27. It recovered quickly and is currently selling at $104.34. Overall the stock has been on steady rise since Oct. 16, 2014 when it sold for $85.01.

Other companies working on CAR-T therapy had some stock issues as well, including Juno Therapeutics, Kite Pharma and Ziopharm Oncology. None of those companies presented results at the meeting, but they are working on related therapies.

Juno stock fell 6 percent to $60.70 early on Monday. Kite dropped 7 percent to $60.79. dropped from a Friday close of $11.92 to an opening on Monday of $10.96, although it has recovered a bit to sell currently at $11.16.

The Novartis study was really too small and too preliminary to be a major deciding factor in whether or not CAR-T is a useful therapy for solid tumors. The stock jitteriness may be more connected to the high hopes investors and scientists have for CAR-T therapy in general.

“Much more work remains before we can have confidence that CAR T therapy will be able to access the solid tumor market,” said Matthew Harrison, an analyst with Morgan Stanley in a research note.

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