Nektar's Drug Could be a "Big Deal"

06/21/2019 5:00 am EST

Focus: HEALTHCARE

Tom Bishop

Founder, BI Research

Nektar (NKTR) has a drug called NKTR-358 and they presented data from a clinical trial at EULAR (European League Against Rheumatism); in short NKTR-358 could be a very big deal, explains small cap expert Tom Bishop, editor of BI Research

It is a “novel IL-2 conjugate of a T-reg simulator.”  IL-2 is interlukin-2, which is a stimulator of T- cells and in particular T-reg cells.  T-reg cells are regulator T-cells that keep “effector” T-cells from attacking normal tissue, as occurs in auto-immune diseases like lupus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis and a host of auto-immune diseases.

Auto-immune disease are when the body’s built in defenses (T-cells) attack good tissue instead of just the foreign invasions they normally fend off.   

T-reg cells normally keep those effector T-cells (which we all have, and need) in check. However when the T-reg cells’ influence becomes weak, the body (the effector T-cells) can turn on itself and we can get one of a host of auto-immune diseases.

So, NKTR-358 is a form of IL-2 (but not just straight up IL-2 which has limitations like a 1-hour half-life vs. 8-9 days for NKTR-358 and that IL-2 will stimulate all T-cell growth not just T-regs) that stimulates the T-reg cells to multiply and be more effective in doing their job of keeping the effector T cells from turning on the body that they were actually designed to protect from foreign intrusions (don’t attack the host guys!).

NKTR-358 which employs a low dose IL-2 conjugate has been proven in this recently reported clinical trial in healthy humans to be safe and to selectively activate T-regs without stimulating the out of control effector T-cells. 

Accordingly the company has already advanced NKTR-358 into a clinical trial in lupus (SLE) patients, with trials on four more auto-immune diseases now in the planning stages and likely to be announced before year end.  NKTR-358 is expected to be taken chronically, though later on likely at maintenance doses. 

NKTR-358 is being developed in partnership with Eli Lilly (LLY). Due to its mechanism of action it could, as with cancer fighting drug NKTR-214, find its way into combination therapies with other companies’ drugs. 

Indeed it has already been tested with cyclosporine pre-clinically to great success. So lots of blue sky and promise here ... as if we needed more on top of that for NKTR-181 and NKTR-214. The shares, which have traded over $100, remain a Buy here under $40.

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