More Hope for Cancer Vaccines in 2013 (UBS, GSK, DNDN, AMGN)

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Cancer ranks on the list of global killers as number two. Over the years, great strides have been made not only in cancer treatment but in survival rates for many different forms of the disease. Many false starts have occurred in the creation of a vaccine for cancer. Now it seems possible that 2013 may be the year when a successful vaccine is approved for use and treatment.

Despite advances in medical care and treatment of cancer, a very high need remains for a vaccine treatment. Current forms of cancer treatment like radiation, chemo and surgery can be successful. But they also can inflict tremendous side effects on patients regardless of the treatment outcome.

Cancer cells grow and multiply because the immune system does not recognize them as foreign. It has long been thought in the medical community that cancer vaccines and additional immunotherapies may be the key to solving the cancer riddle. Analysts at UBS A.G. (NYSE: UBS) think 2013 may be the year for progress.

UBS surveyed not only pharmaceutical companies working on vaccines, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well, looking for their vision of success as well as what prompted failures in the past. They took an in-depth look at the FDA’s “Guidance on Therapeutic Cancer Vaccines,” in addition to an exhausting review of clinical data and trials designs to determine the likelihood of success in 2013.

The 2010 approval of Dendreon Corp.’s (NASDAQ: DNDN) Provenge validated the concept of using antigen-based immunotherapies. Currently 35% of all vaccines in development are for cancer treatment. With three major pharmaceutical companies having phase 3 readouts, 2013 could prove to be the defining year.

UBS thinks the two best positioned companies are Neutral-rated GlaxoSmithKline PLC (NYSE: GSK) and Buy-rated Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ: AMGN). They think pivotal data will be forthcoming from GlaxoSmithKline in the form of results from the MAGE-A3 antigen data, which will be used for the treatment of skin and lung cancer. GlaxoSmithKline’s immunotherapeutics team is betting it has found a mixture of proteins that can boost the body’s natural ability to battle several kinds of cancers, all of which express the MAGE-A3 antigen. This protein is expressed on certain tumor cells, but not normal cells. The therapy also contains a mix of chemicals, AS15, that together act as an “adjuvant” to enhance the body’s immune response to the selected antigen. Results are expected in mid 2013.

They also expect Amgen’s therapeutic vaccine T-VEC, which is injected directly into visible cancer masses, to have additional positive results in 2013. T-Vec already has shown promise in treating regional melanoma. T-VEC (talimogene laherparepvec) is a treatment that leverages a patient’s own immune system. It has a dual mechanism of action, utilizing an attenuated herpes simplex virus (HSV) and a GM-CSF cytokine to stimulate the immune system. The virus is thought to potentiate local anti-tumor effects and the cytokine to potentiate systemic effects. GM-CSF stimulates T cells to kill melanoma cells at sites not infected with the HSV virus.

Cancer vaccines are viewed by the medical community as one of the final frontiers in the treatment of this deadly and fast-growing disease. With the acceptance of immunotherapies in the treatment of cancer and breakthroughs in vaccine research, 2013 could indeed prove to be the year for a true cancer vaccine for patient use.

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