If You Had to Choose, bluebird bio vs. Inovio Pharma

If You Had to Choose, bluebird bio vs. Inovio Pharma October 14, 2016
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

It’s been a volatile year so far for biotech stocks, and it’s not always clear why some of them rise or fall. Keith Speights, writing for The Motley Fool, takes a look at two biotech companies, bluebird bio and Inovio Pharmaceuticals , whose stocks have been on a dramatic up-and-down so far this year.

Bluebird bio focuses on gene therapy. Lenti-D is in a Phase II/III trial for cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (CALD). LentiGlobin is in a Phase II/III trial for beta thalassemia, as well as in a Phase I/II trial in severe sickle cell disease.

Speights points out that in the first half of this year, bluebird dropped more than 30 percent, but since then has made up more than 40 percent. It is currently trading for $60.97.

Yesterday the company provided an update on its various programs. “By incorporating manufacturing Process 2 into our LentiGlobin clinical trials, we believe we can achieve our ultimate goal of increasing hemoglobin production in patients treated with LentiGlobin drug product,” Nick Leschly, who the company referred to as the “chief bluebird.” He went on to say in a statement, “In sickle cell disease we have used our early clinical data to identify and implement multiple distinct improvements with the potential to overcome the unique challenges presented by this complex disease.”

The company hopes to see “catalysts across our programs” in the next 15 months. They include initial data from its Phase I clinical trial of its bb2121 candidate in relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma and updates on its Lenti-D program in cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy.

Speights notes that the company’s finances are good, with cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities worth $779 million at the end of June. But are the drugs any good? Always harder to say, but he notes that Lenti-D has been promising in preliminary data in the Phase II/III trial, but no data has been seen from the Phase II/III beta thalassemia trial of LentiGlobin.

“There were concerns that LentiGlobin wasn’t as effective for some patients in one of the phase I/II studies for the indication,” Speights wrote. “However, Bluebird believes it has determined the reason behind this. The company is moving forward only with patients who don’t have a specific genotype that LentiGlobin isn’t as likely to help treat.”

Inovio Pharmaceuticals rose about 40 percent in the first half of the year, and has dropped about 5 percent since then. It’s currently trading down at $60.15.

Inovio has a broad pipeline. One, VGX-3100, will start a Phase III trial for cervical dysplasia by the end of this year. It also has 14 early-stage trials ongoing with several compounds.

One of its compounds, INO-3112, is being evaluated in a combination with VGX-3100 in a Phase I/II trials with AstraZeneca . One trial is on cervical cancer and the other is in head and neck cancer.

It also has three more cancer drugs in early-stage trials. INO-3106 is being evaluated for aerodigestive cancer, INO-5050 is being studied in prostate cancer, and INO-1400 is being developed for several types of cancers that express human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT).

A stronger area appears to be anti-viral vaccines. Speights writes, “Its experimental Zika virus vaccines has received a lot of attention. This summer, Inovio and its partner, GeneOne Life Science, became the first to begin clinical testing in humans for a potential Zika vaccine. Inovio’s leadership in the race to battle Zika has been a key factor fueling the biotech’s stock performance earlier this year.”

It also has vaccines in development for hepatitis B and C, HIV, the flu, Ebola, and MERS.

If investors only had money to invest in one, Speights recommends Inovio, although he likes both of them. “The standard caveats with any clinical-stage biotech apply to Inovio (and to Bluebird),” Speights wrote. “There’s plenty of risk. Clinical studies can flop. Regulators could reject. Having said that, I think Inovio stands a good chance of winning with VGX-3100. I also suspect the biotech’s highly publicized Zika vaccine development could be attracting the attention of larger companies with plenty of cash.”

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