Thursday, September 24, 2015

California Stem Cell Agency Backs Calabasas Firm with $20 Million in Search for Brain Cancer Therapy

Directors of the California stem cell agency today unanimously approved a $20 million award to help boost into the marketplace a therapy for a rare brain cancer known as glioblastoma.

The funds will go to ImmunoCellular Ltd, a tiny, publicly traded firm based in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas, which has close ties to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Andrew Gengos, president of the firm, told the directors,
"Without (the agency's) support this program would not go forward. Brain cancer patients need CIRM."
It is the second, phase three clinical trial for the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The $3 billion research enterprise is pushing to develop a commercial therapy before funds for new awards run out in about four years.  (See here for the CIRM  press release on the award.)

CIRM is also proposing to award $400 million over the next four years to support clinical level research and participate in 65 clinical trials.

The ImmunoCellular trial is expected to produce preliminary results by the end of 2019.  The trial will involve 414 patients and  begin recruiting in November of this year. (See here for recruitment and other information.)

Despite some caveats, the agency’s blue ribbon reviewers concluded that the proposed therapy “could become a new standard of care and extend survival of glioblastoma patients.” Other firms, however, are competing in the field, the reviewers noted. Earlier this year, reviewers approved the award during closed door proceedings on a 9-0 vote, an action that virtually assured formal approval today.

Immunocellular’s closing stock price has risen 13 percent since the California Stem Cell Report disclosed on Sept. 17 that the firm was set to receive the $20 million award. Today, the stock opened at 48 cents. At the time of this writing today it stood at 52 cents.

Information presented to the CIRM board today did not indicate potential cost of therapy to consumers. Nor did the information discuss the financial condition of the company other than to state that it would provide $34.4 million in co-funding. There was little discussion this morning of the application by the CIRM board. 

The company’s filings with the Security and Exchange Commission show that the firm has reported no revenues since 2010 and a loss of $9.4 million in 2014. It reported that it had $23.2 million in cash or cash equivalents in 2014. In February of this year, it reported raising $14.6 million from Roth Capital Partners, LLC.

Sabby Healthcare Master Fund, Ltd. and Sabby Volatility Warrant Master Fund, Ltd., both registered in the Cayman Islands, hold 9.22 percent of the company’s stock, according to company documents.

Capital Ventures International, another Cayman Island firm, owns 5.54 percent. John S. Yu, chairman and chief scientific officer of the ImmunoCellular and a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai, owns 6.65 percent. The CIRM governing board has one member from Cedars-Sinai who was not permitted to vote on the award.

ImmunoCellular has six fulltime employees, Gengos said today.

The public summary of the review said,
“In the initial review of this application, reviewers were enthusiastic as glioblastoma represents a serious unmet medical need. Additionally, the applicant presented strong preclinical and clinical data to support the proposed Ph3 registration trial and there was a reasonable plan to obtain regulatory approval of the proposed therapeutic. However, reviewers had feasibility concerns regarding the applicant’s ability to enroll the trial and maintain the reagent supply chain to support manufacturing of the product.

“Reviewers also had concerns with the trial design, which centered around selection of the patient population targeted in the registration trial and the lack of immune monitoring proposed in the trial. The applicant was provided the opportunity to address these concerns in a revised application, and their responses and modifications to the proposal reassured reviewers that the applicant could enroll and conduct the Ph3 trial as proposed and that, if endpoints are met, the trial design could support licensing approval by FDA.”
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