5 Immunotherapy Stocks to Watch for Treating Cancer

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Interest in immunotherapies continues to build up - earlier this week, Loncar Cancer Immunotherapy ETF CNCR , the first ETF dedicated only to stocks involved in the research and development of immuno-oncology treatments, started trading on NASDAQ.

The Loncar Cancer Immunotherapy ETF comprises both large pharma and growth-oriented biotech companies working on immuno-oncology treatments.

Understanding Immuno-Oncology

The basic concept of cancer immunotherapy or immuno-oncology is to utilize certain parts of the immune system to fight the disease. This can be done by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells or by introducing immune system components into the body. While some immuno-oncology treatments have the potential to be effective as monotherapies, others may be more effective when combined with other treatments.

Different types of immunotherapies include monoclonal antibodies/mAbs (man-made versions of immune system proteins which can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell), immune checkpoint inhibitors (recognize and attack cancer cells), vaccines (help prevent or treat cancer) and others that boost the overall immune system.

Encouraging results generated by some companies demonstrating partial and complete responses in late-stage cancer patients has raised hopes for cancer patients and increased interest in the investor community.

5 Promising Immuno-Oncology Focused Stocks

Given the growing interest in immuno-oncology treatments, let's take a look at some pharma and biotech companies that are looking to change the way we treat cancer.

First on the list is Amgen AMGN , one of the biggest and most well-known names in biotech. The company saw its immunotherapy, Blincyto, gain FDA approval in Dec 2014, making it the first approved drug that engages the body's T-cells to destroy leukemia cells. Amgen also has immuno-oncology focused collaborations with companies like Roche and Merck MRK for its experimental cancer treatment talimogene laherparepvec.

AstraZeneca AZN is another large-cap company looking to redefine the cancer-treatment paradigm. The company's focus is on four key platforms -- immunotherapy, the genetic drivers of cancer and resistance, DNA damage repair, and antibody drug conjugates -- supported by personalized healthcare and biomarker technologies.

Seattle, WA-based Juno Therapeutics, Inc. JUNO is looking to revolutionize cancer treatments by engaging the body's immune system to treat cancer. Juno is developing cell-based cancer immunotherapies based on chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) and high-affinity T cell receptor (TCR) technologies - the goal is to activate a patient's own T-cells to recognize and kill cancer cells. According to the company, genetically-engineered T-cells have the potential to meaningfully improve survival and quality of life for cancer patients.

Lead candidate, JCAR015, is currently in a phase I study in relapsed/refractory B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (r/r ALL) patients - data so far is encouraging and the company is looking to commence a pivotal phase II study in adult r/r ALL patients shortly that could support accelerated approval in the U.S. in 2017.

Kite Pharma, Inc. KITE is another company focused on the development of immuno-oncology treatments. Kite uses its engineered autologous cell therapy (eACT) to genetically modify T-cells to express either CARs or TCRs. These modified T-cells are designed to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The Santa Monica, CA-based company has tied up with companies like Amgen and bluebird and could well see its most advanced pipeline candidate, KTE-C19, launching in 2017.

Incyte Corp. INCY has an extensive oncology pipeline and is well positioned with both large and small molecule approaches to immuno-oncology. In order to maximize the value of its pipeline programs, Incyte has collaboration agreements with companies like Merck, Roche, AstraZeneca, Agenus and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The company's immuno-oncology pipeline includes IDO1 inhibitors (IDO1 inhibition shifts the immune system from an immunosuppressive state to an activated state thereby allowing the body to mount a more effective anti-tumor immune response), PI3K-delta inhibitors (PI3K-delta pathway mediates oncogenic signaling in B cell malignancies), and JAK inhibitors (JAK promotes tumor growth by integrating pro-inflammatory cytokine signals).

The Allure of Immuno-Oncology

Immuno-oncology treatments hold huge commercial potential and have the ability to change the treatment paradigm. With companies working on bringing improved treatments with fewer side effects to market, it may be a good idea to keep an eye on these stocks which may revolutionize cancer treatments.

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ASTRAZENECA PLC (AZN): Free Stock Analysis Report

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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