What happened

Shares of the clinical-stage biotech NantKwest (NASDAQ:NK) rose by more than 13% today on sky-high volume. The stock is apparently getting a lift from last week's news about the Food and Drug Administration granting Investigational New Drug, or IND, status to the company's NANT cancer vaccine. More specifically, this IND will reportedly allow this experimental cancer vaccine to be assessed in a phase 1/2 clinical trial for pancreatic cancer patients who progressed during or following standard-of care therapy.

So what

Pancreatic cancer has proven to be an extremely tough nut to crack from a treatment standpoint. As a result, patients afflicted with this particular malignancy face a dire prognosis, especially when they fail to respond to standard-of-care first-line therapy and chemotherapy. NantKwest and its dynamic CEO, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, however, are hoping this experimental cancer vaccine that activates both the adaptive and innate immune systems can change this bleak outlook for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. 


Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

The forthcoming trial will examine the vaccine's safety and effectiveness in up to 80 patients that have progressed on or after standard-of-care first-line therapy and chemotherapy. Patients that exhibit a complete response in the phase 1 portion of the trial will subsequently enter the second part of the study (phase 2), and may remain on treatment for up to a year.

Breaking this down, investors can reasonably expect a noteworthy clinical update on this trial by next year's J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January 2018, or perhaps even sooner. That's really good news because NantKwest's current cash runway should be sufficient to see it through to this major catalyst. On the flip side, cancer vaccines have a rather disconcerting track record in the clinic -- meaning that this particular vaccine candidate should definitely be viewed as a moonshot effort.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.