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New Cancer Vaccine the Next Dendreon?

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Think all cancer vaccines are, or will be, successful? Think again.

Before there was Dendreon (DNDN) and its just-approved prostate cancer vaccine Provenge, there was Cell Genesys and Favrille, CancerVax and Genitope (GTOP.PK). All tried to develop cancer vaccines, all failed.

Dendreon's stock price is surging; those other four cancer vaccine companies -- not so much. Favrille and CancerVax are no longer with us. Genitope exists in pink sheet purgatory. Only Cell Genesys managed to survive, sort of, by selling itself to BioSante Pharmaceuticals (BPAX), a small drug company better known for trying to develop a female Viagra.

Dendreon is a great success story and proves that patience and perseverance can pay off in the fledgling field of cancer immunotherapy. But let's not also forget that Dendreon is a lonely winner surrounded by a crowd of cancer vaccine losers.

In the next weeks and months, investors are going to be enticed by drug companies crawling out of the woodwork with claims that they're working on the next Provenge. That's an easy thing to say, much tougher to actually accomplish.

Biotech investors are busy looking for the "next Dendreon." Nothing wrong with searching for new cancer vaccines, as long as investors remember that, once upon a time, some other investors bought Favrille and Genitope, CancerVax and Cell Genesys confident that they already owned the next Dendreon.

It didn't quite work out that way, unfortunately.

On Monday, BioSante said it was resurrecting the GVAX prostate cancer vaccine program that caused Cell Genesys to blow up in 2008.

Too new to the cancer vaccine game to remember what happened to Cell Genesys and GVAX? Here's a quick history lesson. Independent data safety monitors in August 2008 forced Cell Genesys to shutter one phase III clinical trial of GVAX because prostate cancer patients treated with GVAX and chemotherapy were dying at a faster rate than those patients treated with chemotherapy alone.

Cell Genesys stopped the second and final GVAX phase III study in October 2008 due to futility, meaning GVAX was deemed too ineffective to benefit prostate cancer patients.

GVAX was doomed from the start because data from phase II studies of the cancer vaccine were fairly lousy. Of course, that didn't stop Cell Genesys from signing a partnership with the Japanese drug maker Takeda, or for investors who thought they knew better to lose all their money when Cell Genesys' stock price sank to mere pennies.

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