Zeus Capital Director of Healthcare Research Dr Gary Waanders caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss Oncimmune Holdings PLC (LON:ONC)
Q1: This morning Oncimmune released its maiden set of interim results as a listed company for the 6 months to November 30th 2016, how is the company doing?
A1: Very well, Giles, the company has been delivering on its operational plans and doing this whilst controlling spending So, Oncimmune had a focus during the period to increase its sales presence, it has now appointed, and as at the end of January has fully trained, the sales people of 14 new distributors in the US, with these in place, we expect sales of the lung cancer early detection test will grow nicely over the coming months.
The company has also made some senior appointments to its management team with Maarten Brusse as the Chief Commercial Officer, responsible for the Asia Pacific region, Deedee Rivas is the VP of Sales in America and that will ensure the newly-appointed US distributors are adequately supported and Andrew Millet has also joined as the CFO.
On the product development side, new markers are being validated ahead of addition to the existing lung cancer test and that will further enhance that product’s sensitivity, in addition the lung cancer test has been developed as a kit version and that’s progressed very well and it’s scheduled to launch in Q2 this year. There is a new liver cancer test which is expected to be ready for commercialisation before the end of the year so lots happening there. There are further new products are also progressing including a test for ovarian cancer, there’s an auto-antibody fingerprinting test which is in development as well and that’s going quite well and there is potentially the companion diagnostic tests for use with specific throat therapies.
Q2: What would you say are the key strengths of Oncimmune’s technology and products?
A2: So, the technology for the company’s early cancer detection product is based on the body’s own immune response to cancer cells and during this response the immune system produces so-called auto-antibodies to markers produced by the cancer cells. So, these auto-antibodies, they’re regular antibodies we call them auto-antibodies because they’re detected in the blood long before the other technologies can detect cancer cells or developing tumours and they’re specific for markers expressed by your cancer cells. The presence of these auto-antibodies can help doctors determine what sort of cancers might be present in high-risk individuals so for example, in lung cancers these are more prevalent in smokers with a certain history of smoking but the problem with lung cancer is it is usually detected at a very late stage at which point treatment is usually not very effective. So, you may know there are CT scans which can enable cancers to be detected earlier, if the screen program is instigated, but in many cases CT scans return positive results which are not actually due to cancers, these are so-called false positives. So, if you were to combine CT with Oncimmune’s test, that could help stratify the risk of indeterminate nodules, as we call them, these are the ones detected by CT which are potentially false positives and that would thus reduce unnecessary and often invasive procedures by lowering the number of these false positives. In addition to making the CT more effective, the positive result with Oncimmune’s lug test could enable earlier intervention when the chances of treatment are greatest and this is also true for other cancers that the company is looking at so, liver and ovary cancers which are like lung, they develop for a long time without any symptoms. The key here, in any case, is early diagnosis which vastly improves survival and also lowers costs.
Q3: Gary, what’s going to drive the top line growth in the next 2-3 years do you think?
A3: So, I think sales growth is going to come from a number of directions, firstly on the product side you’ve got the lung test, we expect the increase in the number of fully trained distributors in the US should drive growth of the test as an initial lung cancer screening tool as used by General Practitioners.
The company is also looking at appointing new specialist distributors for pulmonologists and this is for use in the context of helping to stratify nodules detected by CT scans as I mentioned earlier. There are also new markers being added to the existing lung cancer test and this should further enhance the sensitivity of that product so that, I think, will also improve the adoption of the product.
There is a new kit version of the lung test which is being developed, and is expected to be launched in Q2 I think, and that will enable the company to open up new markets in territories where kit-based tests are preferred so the leading example there would be Asia. There are other new tests also being developed for additional solid tumours, so I mentioned liver cancer, that’s likely to be available before the end of this current year so calendar 2017 and there are other tests, again, for ovarian cancer and so on.
Finally, I think the adoption of all the tests is likely to grow following the publication of further clinical trial results which the company’s got ongoing and continues to do over the next few years.