What happened

Shares of Agenus (NASDAQ:AGEN) rose as much as 10.8% today after the company reported a licensing deal in China and highlighted results from an early-stage study. The development-stage biopharma licensed two drug candidates to Betta Pharmaceuticals for a total up-front payment of $35 million. It also showed early evidence that drug combinations including AGEN1181 have promising potential in certain difficult-to-treat solid tumors.

The licensing agreement will boost the company's cash position, which stood at $92 million at the end of March. Meanwhile, the early results from AGEN1181 provide further evidence the company's unique drug-design strategy holds promise.

At the close of trading Monday, the small-cap stock had settled to a 10.4% gain.

A series of ascending arrows on a chalkboard.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Under the licensing agreement, Agenus has granted Betta Pharmaceuticals rights to balstilimab (AGEN2034) and zalifrelimab (AGEN1884) in China. The drug candidates target PD-1 and CTLA-4, respectively, two proteins that play a crucial role in solid-tumor cancers. Agenus will receive an up-front cash payment of $15 million and an equity investment of $20 million. It can receive up to $100 million in additional milestone payments plus royalties.

As for AGEN1181, Agenus advertised a presentation at American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting. The early-stage results suggest combining the engineered antibody with cell therapies could drive complete responses in cancers that are resistant to PD-1 therapies alone. It provides further evidence suggesting the company's approach to drug design -- engineering the crystallizable fragment (Fc) of antibodies -- can generate enhanced immune responses against solid-tumor cancers.

Now what

Agenus is now valued at just over $700 million. On the one hand, that's close to an all-time high. On the other hand, it shows Wall Street isn't necessarily blown away by recent developments. Investors can't be too surprised given the early nature of results for AGEN1181. For now, this biopharma stock remains a relatively high-risk investment.

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