The JPMorgan Healthcare Conference currently under way in San Francisco is arguably the most important event of the entire year for the health care sector. This is one of the rarest opportunities for biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies to open up about where they've been and where they're headed, so it pays to take notice.
One company that presented yesterday that I had my keen eye on is ImmunoGen (NASDAQ:IMGN). ImmunoGen develops a proprietary technology known as targeted antibody payload, or TAP, that allows a chemotherapy toxin to be carried on an antibody until it comes into contact with a very specific protein produced by a targeted cancer cell; then it releases the toxin. There are very, very few biotechs focused on toxin payload delivery methods like this, with Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ:SGEN) and its various antibody-drug conjugates being the other. Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) in 2010 even tried its luck with a TAP-type drug known as Mylotarg, but couldn't get the toxin to stay attached to the antibody. In short, the technology is amazing -- the successes few and far between!
As expected, during yesterday's presentation we heard that ImmunoGen fully expects U.S. and European approval for T-DM1 -- its HER2-positive breast cancer drug developed with Roche (NASDAQOTH:RHHBY) -- early in 2013. Considering that it reduced overall death risk relative to the placebo by 32% and extended overall median survival to 30.9 months, versus the 25.1 months delivered by GlaxoSmithKline's (NYSE:GSK) Tykerb and Roche's Xeloda, I'd say CEO Dan Junius is correct in his optimism.
What was really noteworthy is that we got to hear a little bit about ImmunoGen's three other compounds in development expected to produce clinical results in 2013.
The first compound, IMGN901, is being developed to target cancers with the CD56 expression, including small-cell lung cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma, pediatric neuroblastoma, and multiple myeloma. What ImmunoGen has discovered in mid-stage trials is that not only has IMGN901 incited activity, but with regard to Merkel cell carcinoma, they've seen signs of activity even in platinum-resistant patients who no longer respond to first-line treatments. In multiple myeloma patients, ImmunoGen has seen increased activity in combination with Celgene's (NASDAQ:CELG) Revlimid. Most data on IMGN901 is due out in the latter half of 2013.
The second compound, IMGN853, uses the DM4 linker and is targeted at folate receptor positive cancers like ovarian and lung cancers, as well as small-cell carcinoma. This compound is currently in early stage trials, and data should be available by mid-year.
The final compound discussed by Dan Junius is IMGN529, a candidate for CD37 positive B-cell malignancies, like non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, with Tykerb plus Xeloda. This compound began phase 1 testing in April and is expected to provide some glimpse of efficacy and safety in late 2013.
ImmunoGen is also very well capitalized, ending its most recent quarter with $233.4 million in cash and projecting to finish its fiscal year (ending in June) with $172 million to $176 million in cash.
I think this is going to be a pivotal year for ImmunoGen, and I'd have to say that the positive, but limited, clinical data thus far provides evidence that the TAP technology the company possesses could become the drug combination therapy of the future. It's still too early to declare either ImmunoGen or Seattle Genetics the better antibody-payload company and would suggest those looking to dip their feet into the sector simply consider buying both.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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