With around 13,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed annually and 2,000 deaths a year, skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK.
In fact, recent studies have found that malignant melanoma diagnoses hit 10,000 a year for over 55s alone, compared with just 3,100 cases two decades ago, an increase of 155%.
Dr Anton Alexandroff, a consultant dermatologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said the increase was likely due to “reckless” lifestyles and improper protection from the sun, which is the main cause of most skin cancers.
Priming the body to fight cancer
Scancell’s immunotherapy vaccine primes the patient’s immune system to recognise and kill specific cancer cells.
SCIB1 – and now SCIB2 – targets and stimulates existing cells that make up the body’s defence mechanisms, in particular the dendritic cells already present at the site of the cancer.
Dendritic cells are found in all tissues that are in contact with the external environment, such as the skin, lungs and intestines.
The main function of these cells is to process antigens - foreign or toxic material - and present them to the immune system. Once activated, they migrate to the lymph nodes where the antigen is destroyed by the body’s T cells.
“Compelling” clinical trial results
At the turn of the year, Scancell reported the “compelling” results of a phase I/II trial of its SCIB1 immunotherapy for late-stage melanoma.
The study showed the response to SCIB1 was “significantly stronger” at the higher dose of 8 milligrams (mg), while the drug worked better for those patients who already had the tumour removed before treatment.
In this group of 20 with stage III and IV melanoma who had had the cancer surgically removed (or resected), disease-free survival was much higher than would be anticipated based on the historical evidence.
A total of 19 people with remain alive. Of the 16 who received 2/4mg doses of SCIB1 only five have seen the disease progress and one has died.
Scancell also looked at a second group – those with a tumour present.
Nine people received doses of between 4 and 8mg of SCIB1 with evidence of clinical activity seen in two. One had a partial response, while the second saw the tumour shrink by more than 30%.
The clinical study report also showed SCIB1 was safe and well tolerated at the doses used.
Not just skin cancer treatments though…
While SCIB1 is furthest along the pipeline, Scancell also has a non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treatment – SCIB2 – which is progressing well.
In fact, the group has recently inked a US collaboration deal with a leading lung cancer foundation that will accelerate the development of the drug.
It is teaming up with the Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI) and the Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation to take the SCIB2 cancer vaccine into phase I/II clinical trials.
ALCMI will assist Scancell with the design and development of the study, which is set to get underway in 2018 and complete around 18 months later.
Lung cancer remains one of the most difficult cancers to treat and accounts for more than a quarter of all cancer deaths.
That’s more than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. Around 228,000 people receive a lung cancer diagnosis in the US alone and more than 160,000 will not survive.
What the brokers are saying…
Panmure Gordon analyst Mike Mitchell, in a note to clients, said Scancell is poised for a “significant” year.
“Immunotherapy as a field continues to generate ever-more-prominent headlines and we view Scancell as a seriously overlooked player in this area,” he added.
The shares, exchanging hands for 15p a pop at the end of January, are worth 68p according to Mitchell.
Fellow City broker Hardman & Co reiterates the view that there’s a lot of headroom for growth in the Scancell share price.
“Scancell’s proprietary technologies are in the ‘hot’ area of immuno-oncology and targeting markets of significant unmet medical need.
“Given that big pharma is willing to pay handsomely for such validated assets, we foresee considerable upside potential in the shares.”