B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA) has become a hot target for treatments for multiple myeloma. In this video from Motley Fool Live, recorded on Dec. 7, Corinne Cardina, bureau chief of healthcare and cannabis, and Fool.com Contributor Brian Orelli discuss why BCMA has become popular. They also talk about the different strategies drugmakers are using to attack cancer cells expressing the protein.
Corinne Cardina: Turning now to another segment of the hematology innovation going on. We've got the BCMA target for multiple myeloma. This is a rare cancer of the plasma cells. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2020, about 32,000 new cases will be diagnosed and nearly 13,000 deaths are expected. Before we jump into the updates here, Brian, can you tell us what the BCMA target is and why it is such a hot target?
Brian Orelli: Yes. It's B-cell maturation antigen, is what BCMA stands for. It's over-expressed on multiple myeloma cells, and then it's hot just because it appears to work, it's expressed. Anytime you have a cancer target, your ideal cancer target is highly expressed on your cancer cells and low expression on any other cells that you don't want to kill. It doesn't matter if it's on the cancer cell itself or on other cells, you don't want to kill them and that doesn't work so well. BCMA seems to be a pretty good target because it's over-expressed on multiple myeloma cells, but isn't expressed very highly on the rest of the cells in the body.
Cardina: All right. Some of the players here, we have Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) through its Janssen Oncology Subsidiary. They are working with Legend Biotech (NASDAQ:LEGN). Second, we have bluebird bio (NASDAQ:BLUE) joining Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) and they are using CAR T. You'll have to tell us more about that in a moment. Then third, Johnson & Johnson is back, but this time with Regeneron (NASDAQ:REGN) and they're using a bispecific antibodies targeting BCMA. Let's start with what is the difference between CAR T and bispecific antibodies? What are those means?
Orelli: CAR T, currently, you're taking the cells out of the body, training them to attack a tumor cells. In this case, you are training them to attack cells that express BCMA. We're also working on allogeneic CAR T. So that would be off-the-shelf CAR T, so it wouldn't be your own cells, it would be somebody else cell. Those are really in the early stages, and neither one of the companies that we're talking about here are working on that.
Bispecific antibodies, antibodies bind proteins. Normally, antibodies, you can imagine them a y-shaped molecule, and the two top ends of the y both bind a target traditionally. So what people have done is they've design the two ends of the y's to bind to different targets. Now, we're binding BCMA on the tumor on one of them, and we're binding CD3, which is a protein on T-cells, on the other end. By doing that, we can bring the T-cell close to the tumor cell and then the tumor cell will kill it. It's basically the same premise. Either, way we want to get the T-cell next to the cancer cells so that the T-cell can kill the cancer cell.