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Celgene CVR: Upside Into Abraxane Pancreatic Cancer Trial Data

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (TheStreet) -- While some biotech investors like to play the "run up" to clinical data or FDA drug approval decisions, others may be more inclined to take the risk and hold through these important binary events. This more traditional approach to biotech investing requires a careful, fundamental analysis that weighs the odds of a positive or negative outcome against the upside rewards or downside risks in the stock price.

Obviously, the key to profiting from binary-event investing is to find a stock where the potential rewards outweigh the possible risks. I believe I've found one such situation with the publicly traded, contingent value rights (CVR) tied to the cancer drug Abraxane. Celgene (CELG) created these CVRs when it acquired Abraxane's original owner Abraxis BioScience in 2010.

This Celgene CVR (CELGZ) closed Monday at $2.50. What I like about the Celgene CVR is the potential for a nearly $7.50-per-share payout should a phase III study of Abraxane in pancreatic cancer succeed.

Abraxane is an albumin-bound formulation of paclitaxel, the old cancer chemotherapy drug. Abraxane is currently approved to treat breast cancer and does seem to be more efficacious and less toxic than standard paclitaxel. Celgene is seeking an expanded FDA approval for Abraxane into non-small cell lung cancer and has other late-stage studies ongoing, including melanoma and the above-mentioned pancreatic cancer.

Gemcitabine is the current standard of care in pancreatic cancer, which generally conveys a survival benefit of approximately six months. Despite many attempts, pancreatic cancer has been stubbornly resistant to new therapies. Pancreatic cancer cells are believed to be surrounded by what amounts to a protective shell. This shell makes it very difficult for cancer-killing drugs to penetrate effectively.

Abraxane and its albumin formulation may have stumbled upon a way to weaken the coat of armor that normally protects pancreatic cancer cells. In phase II studies, Abraxane demonstrated a median overall survival of 12.2 months and conferred an even longer survival rate in patients with pancreatic tumors expressing high levels of a protein known as SPARC. [Approximately half of all pancreatic tumors over-express SPARC.]

On the downside, the Abraxane phase II studies were single arm, therefore lacking a comparator. However, the studies were conducted in the U.S., which mitigates some of the added risk.

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