The Next Big Things in Healthcare: Immunotherapy and Regenerative Medicine
by Marc Lichtenfeld, Advisory Panelist, Health Care Expert
Wednesday, October 7, 2009: Issue #1110
The procedure has been called "one of the most barbaric mistakes ever perpetrated by mainstream medicine." Back when medicine was highly primitive, the process involved shoving an ice pick-like instrument between the upper eyelid and the eye in hopes of severing certain nerves of the frontal lobe.
This was the early method of performing a lobotomy. And just 50 years ago, they were carried out not only on severely mentally ill people, but also on moody teenagers, or housewives who'd lost their enthusiasm for domestic work. Seriously. Over 40,000 Americans were lobotomized, often with catastrophic results.
Thankfully, they're a thing of the past. But it made me think about how medicine has changed over the years and what practices were once acceptable. Just a few hundred years ago, for example, you wouldn't have questioned the "doctor" for putting leeches on you any more than you do today for prescribing an antibiotic.
What other common medical practices will be outdated in the years to come - and more importantly what will replace them? As someone who follows the health care sector, I believe I have the answer to the next big thing in health care: Immunotherapy and regenerative medicine...
How Immunotherapy is Changing the Playing Field
Immunotherapy has been around for decades in the forms of vaccines, allergy shots, etc. It involves introducing something into the body to create an immune response. For example, when you receive a flu shot, you're essentially training your body's immune system to respond to specific infectious agents.
And then there are more serious diseases - like cancer.
Over the past few years, we've seen new cancer medicines receive approval, with even more in development.
With greater technology and intensive ongoing research, we may one day look back at chemotherapy (the equivalent of carpet-bombing your body in order to kill cancer) as barbaric as we do lobotomies.
And with regard to immunotherapy drugs, the body's immune system specifically targets the cancer, typically resulting in fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
Several well-known cancer drugs already employ this technique - for example, Genentech's Avastin and Herceptin and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) and ImClone's (now Eli-Lilly) joint-partnership with Erbitux. All three have become blockbuster drugs for these companies.
Three Small-Cap Firms That Could Cash in on Immunotherapy
But there are also many small-cap health care companies engaged in immunotherapy research, which stand to make piles of money for shareholders if they develop a successful drug. Here are some names to look into...
- Dendreon Corp. (Nasdaq: DNDN): Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men and is the second-highest cause of cancer deaths. Dendreon's leading drug candidate for prostate cancer, Provenge, could be approved in 2010.
- Cel-Sci Corp. (AMEX: CVM): The company's Multikine drug, which treats head and neck cancer has completed Phase II trials and its scientists are currently working on an H1N1 flu drug, too.
- Northwest Biotherapeutics (OTC BB: NWBO): The firm has several drugs in various phases of clinical trials for brain, prostate and lung cancers, including DCVax-Brain, DCVax-Prostate and DCVax-LB for non-small cell lung cancer. It also has DCVax-Direct, which treats ovarian, head and neck cancer.
Three "Regenerators" for Your Health Care Sector Watchlist
In addition to immunotherapy drugs, the field of regenerative medicine is also flourishing and holds some excellent growth potential, as we're still in the early stages of understanding the power of stem and other regenerative cells. Here are a few names to kick off your research...
- Cytori Therapeutics (Nasdaq: CYTX): The company already has a product approved in Europe (Celution 800/CRS) and Asia (Celution 900/MB) for breast reconstruction following a partial mastectomy. The firm is currently running clinical trials in several cardiac areas, too.
- StemCells Inc. (Nasdaq: STEM): The company currently has clinical trials in progress for drugs that treat diseases of the central nervous system and liver.
- Geron (Nasdaq: GERN): It's involved in both immunotherapy research for cancer and stem cell investigation in spinal cord injuries.
Keep in mind that most of these stocks are very small, so their trading can be volatile. In addition, they may need to raise funds to aid research and development, so do your due diligence.
However, I'm confident that over the coming years, firms like these will be at the forefront of new, more effective and safer ways to treat some of the world's worst diseases.
Hoping your longs go up and your shorts go down,