But that’s not all. Dendreon had to do their Provenge trials on the sickest patients for ethical reasons. They can now move back on the disease-progression chain, creating earlier-stage prostate cancer trials for men who might not want to be castrated, or undergo procedures that will leave them impotent and incontinent for the rest of their lives.
The main reason to expect these trials to succeed is this: Provenge is the right way to treat cancer.
How Provenge Works
Cancer is an indication of underlying immune system weakness, just as a fever is an indication of an underlying infection. Treating only the tumor is like treating only the fever; it does not resolve the underlying problem.
No less an authority than the American Cancer Society said as far back as 1975 that people with strong immune systems do not get cancer. That is because everyone has cancerous cells circulating in their body at all times, and one function of the immune system is to find them, kill them, and escort the dead cell out of the body.
Our primary current methods of treating cancer are surgery — which always releases some escaping cells into the body — and chemotherapy and radiation, both of which badly depress the immune system.
Chemotherapy may kill 99% of a tumor, but the 1% it does not kill are the cancer cells that were drug-resistant. So if the cancer returns, it will be in the form of drug-resistant cells. That is why current cancer protocols have an abysmal record of curing recurrent cancer.
Provenge, on the other hand, takes a patient’s specific prostate cancer cells, attached an antigen to “teach” the immune system what a bad cell looks like, and reinfuses the altered cells. The resulting very strong immune response triggered by the antigen naturally causes flu-like symptoms — headache, fever, chills — that are typical of the immune system at work. Those are the limited side effects of Provenge, a remarkably safe profile.
Considering the recession-impacted alternatives, biotech looks like a great sector to be in the right stocks for the rest of the year. One commentator said that it’s very inexpensive to bet against the long-term success of Provenge right now by buying out-of-the-money put options.
He’s right — betting against the long-term success of Provenge is very inexpensive, because it is very stupid.