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Are bluebird bio's Troubles Behind It?

By Brian Orelli, PhD and Keith Speights - Apr 2, 2021 at 8:49AM

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The company offers more evidence that its gene therapy isn't causing cancer.

Shares of bluebird bio (BLUE -6.88%) have been on a roller coaster ride recently as the company faced the potential that its gene therapy could cause cancer. In this video from Motley Fool Live, recorded on March 15, contributors Brian Orelli and Keith Speights discuss recent developments suggesting that the gene therapy isn't the cause of the cancer. They also discuss what's next for the biotech.

Brian Orelli: Moving onto bluebird bio, shares were up last week on the news that the company concluded that its gene therapy to treat beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease is unlikely to be the reason that the patient in the clinical trial came down with acute myeloid leukemia. Few weeks ago, they found the mutations that they believe are causing the leukemia, and then this new information was that they find the integration site of the gene therapy, which in a gene that has nothing to do with leukemia or any cellular processes related to cancer. It seems like good news for bluebird. What's next for the company?

Keith Speights: It does seem like bluebird has enough data to be pretty confident that its lentiviral vector used to deliver both LentiGlobin and Zynteglo isn't the culprit behind patients getting leukemia. That's definitely good news for the company if U.S. and European regulators agree, and I think there's a good chance that will be the case. It's been a really rough year, rough 12 months for bluebird, the stock lost more than half of its value at one point it's still down a lot. The jury is still out on the MDS diagnosis that cropped up in one of the studies. But assuming there isn't a problem on that front, I think bluebird has a reasonable chance now to get some more mojo back a little bit. Assuming, again, the regulators agree with the company's assessment that there's no safety concern here. This is absolutely good news for bluebird and I still think this biotech has a lot of potential over the long run.

Orelli: I worry that every time somebody comes out with cancer, we end it up with the same issue. That's my biggest concern, not that it's going to cause cancer, and it probably will, I mean, you treat enough people with lentiviral vector one, it's going to integrate into a spot that causes cancer every once in a while. The question is just, what is that rate? Is that rate low enough that it justifies the bad thing that will happen if you have beta-thalassemia or sickle cell disease because you can die for both those diseases too? If you're getting cancer, the low rate and you're going to die eventually of this disease, then curing the diseases is definitely worth the effort.

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