What happened

Shares of Agenus (AGEN 6.84%) fell as much as 14.1% today after an update from the pipeline underwhelmed investors. The development-stage biopharmaceutical company announced positive interim data from a combination therapy of balstilimab (AGEN2034) and zalifrelimab (AGEN1884) as a second-line treatment for cervical cancer. The results were from 34 evaluable individuals. 

In the ongoing study, the drug combo achieved an objective response rate (ORR) of 20.6%, which means over 20% of individuals had a response to treatment. Agenus also reported a complete response rate (CRR) of 8.8%, which means nearly 9% of individuals had no evidence of disease after treatment.

The results are impressive, but they might not be impressive enough. As of 3:28 p.m. EST, the pharma stock had settled to a 12.8% loss.

A pink arrow smashing through the horizontal axis on a chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

There's an urgent need to improve second-line treatment options for cervical cancer. Current drugs have demonstrated an ORR of between 4% and 14%. By that measure, the ORR of 20.6% reported by Agenus is impressive. However, it's not as impressive as early results from other drug candidates in development. 

For example, Iovance Biotherapeutics (IOVA -3.50%) is developing a tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) cellular therapy called LN-145. In a study with 27 evaluable individuals, the experimental therapy achieved an ORR of 44.4% and a CRR of 11.1%. The drug candidate received the coveted Breakthrough Therapy designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is widely expected to earn marketing approval.

Now what

Once investors take a step back and consider the broader landscape of experimental second-line treatment options for cervical cancer, it's easy to see why shares of Agenus are tumbling today. The results are impressive relative to treatment options currently on the market, but not as impressive relative to treatment options in the industry's pipeline. 

The combination therapy of balstilimab and zalifrelimab isn't necessarily doomed. It could even be studied in combination with other treatment options, potentially including LN-145, to see if that improves outcomes. But investors are simply disappointed after getting a little too excited yesterday in anticipation of today's pipeline update.