What happened

Shares of Marker Therapeutics (NASDAQ:MRKR) fell over 11% today after the company announced that it will delay the release of preliminary clinical data from an ongoing phase 1 study for its MultiTAA T cell therapy for pancreatic cancer. The data were originally expected to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting by Baylor College of Medicine, the company's partner on the program, in the "Trials in Progress" track. 

However, ASCO rules prohibit clinical outcome data from being presented in that track. So clinicians from Baylor College of Medicine submitted an abstract for their work without clinical data, but meeting organizers rejected the abstract altogether. Marker Therapeutics will now present "more mature" data on the program sometime in the third quarter of 2019, amounting to a roughly three-month delay.

As of 10:42 a.m. EDT, the stock had settled to a 8.1% loss.

A scientist in the lab with a disappointed look on his face.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Marker Therapeutics is developing a range of biologic drugs focused on using the immune system to attack cancer cells. The name MultiTAA stands for "Multi Tumor-Associated Antigen," and the T cell platform uses special immune cells (T cells) to attack proteins (antigens) that are produced only by cancerous tumors (tumor-associated). In pancreatic cancer, the MultiTAA T cell therapy is designed to target a whopping five different tumor-associated proteins.

The immuno-oncology approach sounds impressive, and it might prove to be valuable, but the pipeline is still in the earliest stages of development. It's also quite busy. Marker Therapeutics lists eight different clinical programs for its MultiTAA T cell platform, and another six programs using different approaches.

That can be viewed in a number of ways. Perhaps it harbors a lot of potential, or suggests the company has a lack of focus. Either way, taking 14 clinical programs into mid- and late-stage trials will be awfully expensive, especially for a company valued at just $250 million that ended 2018 with only $62 million in cash and cash equivalents. Any delay in reporting data -- which could send the stock higher or give Wall Street something to cling to -- just reduces an already minuscule margin of error.

Now what

Does the ASCO rejection of the pancreatic cancer program abstract mean the preliminary results aren't that impressive? It may not be a great sign for the technology platform or for investors, but it's a little too early to jump to conclusions. Pancreatic cancer has proven very difficult to treat. Then again, Marker Therapeutics needs to deliver a win from its bulging pipeline soon to justify its immuno-oncology approach. This isn't the news Wall Street wants to read.

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.