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NantKwest Gains 91% After CEO Shares Promising Cancer Result

Ed Ludlow and Michelle Fay Cortez

(Bloomberg) -- NantKwest Inc. shares rose by a record after the company’s CEO said its experimental cancer therapy had shown a dramatic result in one patient with pancreatic cancer during an early-stage clinical trial.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Chief Executive Office Patrick Soon-Shiong said one patient with metastatic pancreatic cancer had their tumors eradicated after treatment with the company’s experimental immune-system-based therapy. The patient had previously been treated unsuccessfully with other drugs and was part of an 11-person trial.

It’s difficult to tell how effective the approach may be, given the early nature of the findings and the lack of details. While Soon-Shiong said more than 300 people have received the therapy, he’s only shared details on a few patients. Promising early results in cancer studies often don’t hold up when the approach is expanded to bigger studies.

The findings revealed Monday build on results released last month in patients with triple-negative breast cancer, a difficult-to-treat form of the most common type of tumor found in women. Two of nine women treated with a cocktail of medicines that included NantKwest’s off-the-shelf version of the immune system’s “natural killer cells” and an IL-15 superagonist from closely held ImmunityBio had a complete response to therapy.

“These are the two toughest cancers that people have had challenges with,” Soon-Shiong said in the interview. “Between these two cancers, triple-negative breast cancer and metastatic pancreatic cancer, we are proving the theory that our work on natural killer cells, the natural killer cells that you and I have in our bodies that are born to kill, is a very powerful tool for cancer.”

Shares of the company closed up 91% at $6.80, the biggest gain since the stock began trading in 2015.

Soon-Shiong said the first 10 patients in the pancreatic trial had partial responses, though not a complete eradication of the tumor. It was the 11th patient, who got an advanced form of the therapy that was engineered to target the PD-L1 antibody that shields cancer from the immune system, that had all signs of their cancer eliminated.

“The first patient ever to receive my next generation NK cell got a complete response,” Soon-Shiong said in the interview and in subsequent comments to Bloomberg.

Soon-Shiong is a billionaire biotechnology investor who owns the Los Angeles Times newspaper and is part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. Soon-Shiong said he planned to release more details of the trial results at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.

Soon-Shiong has attracted controversy before, making claims about revolutionizing the efficiency of the health-care system. He is a serial entrepreneur, who made his initial fortune from the sale of two pharmaceutical companies, including oncology company Abraxis BioScience. The company was sold to Celgene for $2.8 billion in 2010.

(Updates with additional context and closing stock price in sixth paragraph)

--With assistance from Taylor Riggs.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ed Ludlow in San Francisco at eludlow2@bloomberg.net;Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at mcortez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Drew Armstrong at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net, Timothy Annett

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