What happened

Curis (CRIS), a small-cap cancer specialist, posted a healthy gain in August. The biotech's shares rose by 16.6% last month, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

What sparked this double-digit move higher? Curis' shares appeared to be a direct beneficiary of Pfizer's (PFE 0.69%) buyout of Trillium Therapeutics (TRIL), another small-cap cancer company with an early-stage pipeline.

Curis' shares were essentially trading sideways during the early part of the month, but they quickly came to life in the aftermath of Pfizer's acquisition of Trillium on Aug. 23. In fact, Curis' stock gained a noteworthy 15.4% in the final week of the month. 

Up close image of a lymphocyte.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Curis was not the only small-cap cancer company to benefit from Pfizer's surprise buyout of Trillium last month. But in this particular case, the speculators might be on to something.

Curis sports two highly novel anti-cancer assets: CA-4948 as a possible treatment for acute myeloid leukemia and high-risk myelodysplastic syndromes, and CI-8993, an anti-VISTA antibody for the treatment of refractory/relapsed solid tumors.

At present, there are no cancer drugs approved that employ either CA-4948 or CI-8993's unique mechanism of action. So while these somewhat unique pipeline aspects are still in the early stage of the clinical trials process, the fact that each drug may eventually open up an entirely new therapeutic area might bring the Pfizers of the biopharma world to the table in the not-so-distant future.  

Now what

Is Curis' stock a compelling buy after last month's rally? It all depends on your comfort with risk. Curis' braintrust is hoping to go the accelerated approval route for its lead asset CA-4948, a process which could get underway in earnest within the first half of 2022.

But again, there is a solid reason why Curis is one of the few entities pursuing these novel cancer treatment modalities. Namely, they are largely unvalidated as viable oncology targets. Therein lies the opportunity for risk-tolerant investors, however. 

If Curis develops a truly differentiated cancer drug that is both safe and effective, its shares will undoubtedly explode higher. So there is a chance that this stock could turn out to be a diamond in the rough. 

That being said, this small-cap biotech definitely isn't for risk-averse investors. Promising cancer drugs flop on the regular, after all.