Why Agenus Inc. Stock Briefly Popped Today

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What happened

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Agenus (NASDAQ: AGEN), a clinical-stage cancer immunotherapy company, saw its shares open up 13% higher Monday on trading volumes nearly six times the daily average. The move came in response to its launch of a new immuno-oncology subsidiary called AgenTus Therapeutics, Inc.

The biotech's new venture will focus on the development of adoptive cell therapies, such as chimeric antigen T cell receptor therapies (CAR-T), and T cell receptors (TCRs) designed to treat both solid tumors and various types of blood cancers. Despite that brief double-digit spike, however, Agenus' stock almost immediately began to cool off, fell into the red for a few minutes late in the morning, and as of noon EDT, was trading up by only around 2%.

So what

Adoptive cell therapies have been in the spotlight over the past few weeks because of Gilead Sciences' $12 billion buyout of Kite Pharma -- along with the back-to-back regulatory approvals of Gilead/Kite's CAR-T therapy Yescarta and Novartis' Kymriah. Genetically modified cell therapies have rapidly come of age as potent anti-cancer treatments, and Agenus apparently wants to get in on the action. 

Now what

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While adoptive cell therapies are now a validated anti-cancer platform, Agenus is probably way too late to this particular party to derive much of a benefit. Gilead and Novartis already have the first-mover advantage, after all, and a slew of other companies such as Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, bluebird bio., Celgene, Juno Therapeutics, and ZioPharm Oncology -- to name just a few -- are also racing to bring their own cell-based cancer therapies to market within the next few years.

The bottom line is that Agenus' adoptive cell-based therapy venture doesn't seem to have much a chance in light of the prevailing market conditions, which is probably why its 13% spike Monday didn't last long.   

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George Budwell has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Bluebird Bio, Celgene, and Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool recommends Juno Therapeutics. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.