Immunocellular Therapeutics Targeting Cancer Stem Cells

Immunocellular Therapeutics Ltd. (OTCBB: IMUC) is a biopharmaceutical company focused on improving cancer treatments through new immune-based products. Unlike similar companies, such as ImmunoGen Inc. (NASDAQ: IMGN) and Dendreon Corp. (NASDAQ: DNDN), IMUC is developing immunotherapies that target cancer stem cells in addition to normal cancer cells as a means to delay and prevent cancer recurrence.

The Fight Against Cancer Recurrence

Cancer recurrence is simply the return of cancer after a period of remission. Cancer recurrence can be local (in the same place), regional (in lymph nodes), or distant (metastasized) in relation to the location of the original cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 10% to 20% of all cancer patients experience recurrence, typically within the first three to five years after initial treatment. However, in more aggressive cancers, such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a common form of brain cancer, tumors eventually recur in every patient, usually within less than a year.

What are Cancer Stem Cells?

Stem cells have the remarkable ability to develop into many different types of cells in the body during early life and growth. Moreover, they can serve as an internal repair system, dividing without limit to replenish other cells. When a stem cell divides, the new cell can either remain a stem cell or become a more specialized cell.

Conventional cancer treatments can eliminate cancer cells, but cancer stem cells have been shown to be more resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. Even a few remaining cancer stem cells can continue to replicate and cause recurrence.

IMUC’s Cancer Immunotherapy ICT-107

IMUC has developed a unique treatment that targets cancer stem cells. In a Phase I study with GBM patients, the company’s lead product ICT-107 resulted in a median cancer remission time of 16.9 months.  The disease-free rate for the current standard of care, radiation and chemotherapy, is only 6.9 months. Six of the 16 patients in the trial remain free of disease after more than three years. More importantly, the three-year survival rate was 55% compared to 16% for historical controls.

In early 2011, IMUC began a Phase II trial with ICT-107 in patients with newly diagnosed GBM. The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial will enroll approximately 160 patients at more than 20 sites around the U.S.  Enrollment is more than half completed, and the company expects to finish in Q2 2012. Management anticipates an interim analysis by the end of 2012 and final results near the end of 2013.

A Great Investment Opportunity

There’s growing evidence that cancer stem cells contribute to tumor recurrence, and IMUC’s cancer immunotherapy (ICT-107), which effectively targets cancer stem cells, has had very promising results in patients.

IMUC is not alone in believing that targeting cancer stem cells can significantly delay cancer recurrence. Verastem, a private biopharmaceutical company, backed by well-known venture capitalists, including MPM Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners, is also developing drugs that target cancer stem cells. Verastem has been able to raise almost $50 million and recently filed an S-1 for a proposed IPO.

IMUC management recently completed a financing round, increasing the company’s cash balance to over $15 million. The capital raise ensures enough money to last until the end of the Phase II study and funds additional studies in ovarian cancer and recurrent GBM. With a market capitalization of just $42 million, IMUC appears to be significantly undervalued compared to similar companies.

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