What happened

Shares of Agenus Inc. (AGEN), a clinical-stage biotech developing new cancer therapies, popped on Thursday after providing a handful of updates along with its first-quarter earnings. As of 3:05 p.m. EDT on Thursday, the stock had risen 19.9% higher than the previous day's closing price. 

So what 

Agenus pushed the right buttons with its first-quarter earnings report. The company reported a $124 million cash cushion at the end of March, which was $48 million more than it had at the end of 2016. The infusion came from Incyte, in return for global rights to develop and commercialize two programs. 

Happy person in front of upward sloping chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

Agenus also unveiled an immune-oncology cell-therapy discovery program that it had apparently been working on for the last year-and-a-half. Although the company's market cap is only about $396 million at recent prices, it plans to spin off the surprise cell-therapy unit into a separate company to be majority owned by Agenus and funded from outside sources.

Now what

The company finished the first quarter on pace to lose about $68.4 million this year. With Incyte taking on a bigger load, the company expects to burn through $70 million less during the next year-and-a-half. 

With a thicker cash cushion, the company will have more breathing room to develop a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor that it recently advanced into a mid-stage clinical trial. That cash cushion might come in handy because results from the study aren't expected until 2019.

In the meantime, investors will want to keep their eyes peeled for approval of a malaria vaccine that contains Agenus' vaccine booster under regulatory review in several large markets. If given widely expected green lights, Agenus will receive single-digit royalties from GlaxoSmithKline that could slow the company's cash-burn rate even further.