Brad Loncar, CEO of Loncar Investments and index provider to the Cancer Immunotherapy ETF (Nasdaq: CNCR), offers an end-of-year message and preview of 2018.
As 2017 comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the progress immunotherapy has achieved this year and sincerely thank you for your support of the field. Important new advances have reached patients in 2017 and there is a lot to be optimistic about heading into 2018.
Immunotherapy drugs won important new FDA approvals in 2017 for types of colorectal, gastric, hepatocellular, leukemia, lymphoma, lung, and Merkel cell carcinoma. Additionally, history was made in May when Merck’s Keytruda became the first medicine ever approved by FDA for a cancer’s specific genetic features rather than where it originates in the body. Overall, there were 16 FDA approvals for immunotherapy in 2017 versus eight in 2016.
2017 will also forever be remembered as the year that CAR-T cellular immunotherapy became a reality. CAR-T is where the patient’s own T-cells are drawn so they can be re-engineered outside the body and taught to look for cancer. Once infused back into the patient, the cells recognize the cancer and aim to destroy it. This was approved for a type of childhood leukemia in August and then later again in October for aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma in adults.
I attended a meeting at FDA’s headquarters this summer when the leukemia treatment was being reviewed and will never forget how it has changed the lives of families of these children. In the pivotal study leading to approval, 83% of patients were put into complete remission after three months and 79% were alive after one year. These are stunning results considering how the children were refractory to traditional treatments and likely only had months to live. I have never seen anything like that.
2017 also saw increased corporate and investor interest in immunotherapy after Gilead Sciences acquired CAR-T leader Kite Pharma for $11.9 billion in August. Kite launched its IPO at a valuation of approximately $600 million in June of 2014, which shows how quickly innovation and value creation can happen in this space. We have also seen immunotherapy drugs increase the pipeline value of companies by billions like BeiGene, bluebird bio, Incyte, Juno, and Nektar Therapeutics over the last year.
While these milestones have been exciting to watch, there is much work ahead because the vast majority of cancer patients still need better options. I am optimistic that these are early days and immunotherapy can build on its progress and play a disruptive role. Researchers are hard at work on new versions of these medicines to help more patients in the future. There are hundreds of studies ongoing utilizing new immunotherapy targets that hold promise for dozens of cancers.
In 2018, look for major studies to read out that combine two immunotherapy drugs for types of cancer including front-line advanced lung cancer and melanoma. I also recommend following closely the progress researchers are making using immunotherapy in tumor types that have not yet seen approvals such as breast cancer and hard-to-treat brain cancers like glioblastoma. In the CAR-T space, I recently returned from a large hematology meeting and am excited at inroads companies are making against multiple myeloma and other blood cancers. There is a lot to be optimistic about.
Please know that your support of this work is very important and highly appreciated. The goal of immunotherapy is to change cancer care and improve lives. The capital markets play an important role in making it happen and that is an impact we all can make. Much of the innovation that is happening in immunotherapy and cancer research today is coming from smaller companies in the biotech sector. These companies need investor support because it allows them to conduct the important work they are doing.
I sincerely thank all of you who have placed trust in our index methodology as a way to invest in this space. My colleagues and I are grateful for investor support and take the responsibility that comes with it very seriously. We highly admire researchers who develop new therapies, and also the courageous patients who participate in trials that make progress possible. It is our hope that focusing on immunotherapy in this way will drive more awareness and investment in their direction while giving investors exposure to one of the most innovative segments within the biotech industry.
Thank you again for your support. We wish you a healthy and prosperous 2018.
Opinions expressed are those of the author or Funds and are subject to change, are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of future results, nor investment advice. Fund holdings and allocations are subject to change at any time and should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any security.
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