Iovance shares jump on buyout rumors

Rendering of Iovance Biotherapeutics cell therapy facility
Analysts see Gilead Sciences and Takeda as potential suitors for Iovance. (DIGSAU)

Immuno-oncology biotech Iovance Biotherapeutics’ shares rocketed up by nearly 40% Tuesday on buyout chatter.

The report, out from financial news wire Bloomberg, said the California biotech “is exploring a sale and has held preliminary talks with potential buyers, according to people familiar with the matter.”

This saw its shares jump by nearly 40%, although they settled to around 27% by the end of the day. The company has a pipeline of next-gen cancer therapies and last month penned a licensing deal with Novartis to develop and sell the Swiss major’s experimental IL-2 analog.

The M&A rumors came amid its fourth-quarters financial posted Tuesday, with pivotal data readouts and potential filings in melanoma and cervical cancer with its leading candidate lifileucel expected this year. It’s also targeting head and neck cancers as well as some blood cancers.

Iovance’s pipeline is predominately made up of T-cell cancer immunotherapies: Its so-called TIL therapies are derived from T lymphocytes. The therapy works by Iovance extricating the cells from the body, boosting their growth in the lab and reinfusing them back into the patient, following a similar MOA to current CAR-T therapies.

This isn’t the first time Iovance’s shares have rocketed up: Last summer, its stock jumped when data for its TIL regimen, LN-145, showed an objective response rate of 44% and a disease control rate of 89% in cervical cancer.

As you’d expect, Iovance wasn’t commenting on the buyout speculation from Bloomberg.

Benjamin Burnett, an analyst with Stifel Financial, said in a research note that Iovance could be snapped up by the likes of Takeda (which has invested heavily in U.S. biotechs recently) or Gilead (which bought out I-O biotech Kite Pharma a few years back but still is under pressure to do more deals). “This is one of the few cell therapy companies in our coverage with data that has been de-risked to a large degree by a proof-of-concept study,” Burnett said. “We can see how this might be one of the more interesting cell therapy take-out candidates.”