The life sciences sector can often be a graveyard for investors. That’s because the likelihood of success of drug candidate entering phase I clinical trials is 9.6%, according to the Bio Innovation Organisation, or just under 12% if the failure rates in the oncology sector are factored out of the equation.
In short you’d be better off spending your money at the local casino.
However, once in a while a company comes along that defies the odds and provides a decent return for investors along the way.
At this stage it should be pointed out MaxCyte isn’t the typical, binary, heads-you-win, tails-you-lose drug developer you find traditionally on AIM. It has a hybrid business. So, it sells and licenses its cell engineering technology to some of the world’s largest pharma and biotechnology companies.
This part of MaxCyte generated sales of around US$14mln last year. It is also using its platform, called CARMA, to develop treatments for cancer that incite the body’s own immune system to tackle the killer disease. That’s a hot area at the moment.
What’s new and innovative, even for this very new and innovative strand of research, is that CARMA is being designed to grapple with solid tumours.
The breakthroughs in this field, such as CAR T-cell immuno-therapies, fight blood-borne illness, and yet 90% of cancers are solid tumours.
Early results from pre-clinical research carried out by the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore have been encouraging. It also has a collaboration with Washington University in St. Louis.
Share price tracks progress
The advance in the share price, which has risen to around 250p today from 70p at IPO in March 2016, has closely followed the progress the company has made as its first drug candidate has edged closer to the clinic.
Last month, MaxCyte told investors it was in active discussions with the US Food & Drug Administration to begin the study of MCY-M11, which is based on its CARMA technology.
MaxCyte believes its discovery will address some of the most significant issues with current CAR-T therapies, including challenging side-effects and time-consuming manufacturing process that are involved.
CAR-T is a promising new way of getting T cells (white blood cells that helps ward off disease) to fight cancer by changing them in the lab so they can find and destroy cancer cells.
Financially the firm has the wherewithal to achieve its aims having raised £20mln of new funds.
It plans to use its new-found wealth to propel drugs such as MCY-M11 into the clinic as well as fast-tracking other promising candidates that aren’t as far along in the process.
MaxCyte appears to be at that stage where it is attracting attention of senior figures in the industry.
In fact one of those movers and shakers, Richard Douglas, has joined the company as an independent director.
Douglas is one of the pioneers of biotechnology having been vice president of corporate development and corporate officer at Genzyme from 1989 until its sale to Sanofi in 2011.
“Richard's wealth of expertise in business and corporate development and his deep life sciences industry experience will bring invaluable perspective to the MaxCyte board,” said chief executive Doug Doerfler.
Experience like that will count for a great deal as the company attempts to keep up the current pace of development.