What happened

Shares of the clinical-stage adoptive cell therapy company Bellicum Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:BLCM) fell by 16.9% in December, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Even more concerning, the Houston-based biotech lost over 38% of its value in 2017.

The catalyst? Bellicum's shares have been declining simply because the company continues to fall further and further behind the industry leaders in adoptive cell therapy. 

Man holding the back of his head in response to a falling stock chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Gilead Sciences and Novartis both gained regulatory approvals for their genetically modified cell therapies last year, and Juno Therapeutics is close to bringing a third product to market perhaps as early as late 2018. Unfortunately, Bellicum is also contending with several other would-be competitors as well, implying that the company may not be able to carve out a profitable niche in this increasingly crowded field.    

Now what

Bellicum's saving grace, though, may be its controllable switch technology that could give it the safest and most potent cell therapies in the space. Having said that, Gilead recently bought Cell Design Labs to pursue a similar line of controllable cell therapies, and Juno's next-generation chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, JCAR017, is, so far, yielding unprecedented safety results in its ongoing trial for advanced non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

The point is that Bellicum desperately needs to step on the gas in terms of advancing its lead clinical candidate, BPX-501, into a trial that could result in a U.S. regulatory filing soon. The company, after all, has been trialing BPX-501 at a snail's pace compared to its competitors. If this trend continues this year, Bellicum's downward trend will probably only accelerate moving forward.  

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.