The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) will hold its annual scientific meeting from November 6 to 10 in National Harbor, Maryland. The latest results on promising new cancer therapies that work by harnessing the immune system will be presented. Here we look at three companies that will highlight the latest on their cancer-fighting drug candidates.


Photo by Hush Naidoo

1. Autolus to present data on its next-generation CAR-T therapy

Autolus Therapeutics (NASDAQ:AUTL) announced a poster presentation on its programmed T cell treatment, dubbed AUTO6NG, for pediatric neuroblastoma. This is a next-generation (hence, NG in the name) chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy that has been engineered to improve efficacy, safety, and persistence. AUTO6NG's target, GD2, is expressed on several solid tumors, including neuroblastoma, osteosarcoma, melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, and small cell lung cancer. The CAR-T field exploded following the success and regulatory approvals of Kymriah from Novartis (NYSE:NVS) and Yescarta from Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD).

Shareholders in Autolus have endured a rough year. The stock has lost two-thirds of its value from the start of the year. Although AUTO6NG is still yet to enter human trials, investors need some positive news to boost momentum. Further, cancers like small cell lung cancer and soft tissue sarcoma have historically been exceptionally challenging to show clinical benefit. Demonstration of anti-cancer activity by AUTO6NG could benefit patients and Autolus' shareholders alike.

2. Mirati updates on two clinical trials

Clinicians working with Mirati Therapeutics (NASDAQ:MRTX) will present updates on two on-going clinical trials with the company's drug sitravatinib. The drug inhibits a variety of biological receptors that are believed to suppress the immune response to tumors. The update will report anti-cancer activity of sitravatinib in combination with nivolumab from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) for patients with urothelial carcinoma that received a prior platinum-based therapy and an immune checkpoint inhibitor. The second clinical trial combines the two drugs as a precursor to surgery for patients with squamous cell cancer of the oral cavity, a tumor type where only 60% of patients survive for five years or more.

Investors have been focused most recently on Mirati's second compound, a targeted therapy for cancers with a specific mutation of the KRAS gene. However, sitravatinib may be closer to approval with an on-going phase 3 clinical trial in non-small cell lung cancer and several other trials like the ones to be presented at SITC. Mirati's valuation quickly escalated this year. It now needs clinical data from both drug candidates to justify the run-up.

3. Nektar seeks redemption

Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ:NKTR) has a slate of clinical and preclinical data to be presented. On Saturday, November 9, Dr. Adi Diab from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston will present updated data from the on-going PIVOT 02 clinical trial of Nektar's bempegaldesleukin (bempeg) in combination with nivolumab from Bristol-Myers Squibb as a first-line treatment for patients with metastatic melanoma. Other presentations will focus on NKTR-255, an agent designed to stimulate natural killer cells to attack a patient's cancer.

In 2018, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Nektar entered into a global collaboration to develop and commercialize bempeg, then known as NKTR-214, in more than 20 types of cancer. Bristol-Myers paid Nektar $1 billion in cash and bought $850 million of Nektar's stock at a price of $102.60. Nektar trades in the mid to high teens today. Any positive news will be welcomed by shareholders, particularly those who bought on the heals of the collaboration announcement.

Keep a close eye on trial results

Data presentations at scientific meetings can bolster or wreak havoc on a drug developer's stock. Mirati and Nektar provide the greatest chance for stock movement due to the upcoming clinical trial results. While scientifically intriguing for difficult to treat cancers, Autolus' AUTO6NG is quite early in development. However, it is a program to keep on the radar, particularly once clinical trials commence.

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.