What happened

After the company presented results from an early-stage study of its NKTR-214 in solid tumor cancer at the 2017 Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) annual meeting, Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ:NKTR) shares are jumping 13.8% higher as of 2 p.m. EST Monday.

So what

Nektar Therapeutics reported third-quarter financial results that helped shares rally significantly last week, and today, management unveiled promising data from a small phase 1/2 study evaluating NKTR-214 in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE:BMY) Opdivo.

A man in a suit points at a drawing of a lit-up light bulb with a dollar sign inside it.


NKTR-214 expands and activates cancer-fighting T cells and natural killer cells directly in the tumor, while Opdivo prevents cancer cells from hijacking the PD-1 protein to avoid detection by the immune system. 

In the early-stage study, seven of 11 patients with advanced treatment-naive stage IV melanoma responded to the combination, and 91% had either a complete response, partial response, or stable disease, which is referred to as the disease control rate. In the first-line advanced kidney cancer group, six of 13 patients responded, and the disease control rate was 85%. In non-small-cell lung cancer, three of four patients responded, including one complete response.

Importantly, the approach appears to be well-tolerated at the dose that's being used in the phase 2 expansion phase of the study, which recently began enrolling patients.

Now what

Nektar Therapeutics shares have skyrocketed on better-than-expected third-quarter revenue and recent clinical trial progress:

NKTR Chart

NKTR data by YCharts.

In the third quarter, revenue was $152.9 million, including $127.6 million of a $150 million up-front payment the company received in July when Eli Lilly signed on to collaborate with it on autoimmune candidate NKTR-358. The cash will support the company's planned filing of NKTR-181 next year. Earlier this year, NKTR-181 put up positive phase 3 results that suggest it could win away market share from opioid pain relievers if it eventually wins FDA approval.

Today's NKTR-214 news suggests the therapy could be a big winner someday, too. PD-1 drugs like Opdivo are bringing in billions of dollars in sales per year, but they don't work in every patient. As a result, significant research is underway evaluating combination approaches that can increase their effectiveness. NKTR-214's early success could also lead to a closer relationship with Bristol-Myers Squibb. Currently, the two are splitting research and development costs on the combination therapy, but Nektar Therapeutics retains the full rights to NKTR-214. A phase 2 success may lead to a licensing deal. 

Admittedly, Nektar Therapeutics is still losing money and that makes it a risky stock to buy. However, its success in the clinic so far suggests investors will want to watch this biotech stock closely.