2021 scorecard for stem cell stocks: REGN, VCEL, CCEL, LCTX did best

A quick review of the publicly-traded stem cell stocks I’ve been following in 2021 finds mostly discouraging news, but a few firms relatively outperformed the other publically-traded biotechs. One had some great news today.

In this post, I’m doing a brief overview of how things went this year in the regenerative medicine space. I’m going to feature Lineage Cell Therapeutics (LCTX) on the positive side since they got that positive news today.

Mesoblast stock, stem cell stocks
Mesoblast stock YTD graph in 2021. Graph is as of Dec. 17, 2021.

Stem cell biotechs and COVID

I wrote earlier this year about the 2-dozen regenerative medicine biotechs I’ve been following. I don’t have investments in any of them but they’re very interesting to follow. Some are private firms.

In mid-December, I decided to see how a subset of 18 firms that are traded have fared so far in 2021. In 2020 and earlier in 2021, some of these firms had experienced what I called a COVID bounce. There was some major investor overexuberance related to the cell therapy industry in terms of its potential impact on COVID-19. There was even some hype about cellular cures for COVID. None of this hoped-for therapy development has materialized so far and there have been only a few small clinical reports suggesting possible efficacy.

My student Mina Kim and I published a paper analyzing the cell therapy clinical trials out there for COVID-19 and found that most were not designed in such a way as to actually tell much of anything concrete about efficacy.

Most stem cell stocks are way down for 2021

For whatever reason, if there was a COVID bounce for the cell therapy biotech sector it has largely evaporated. Out of the 18 publically-traded firms whose stock price I checked recently, as I said earlier only 4 were up for the year.

Most of the other 14 stocks are not just down for the year but way down. It’s kind of depressing as some of these firms have real potential. You can see an example of one of these firm’s (Mesoblast) stock price woes in 2021 above.

Part of the reason I don’t often invest in this area is the roller coaster ride it can take you on.

Who had a good 2021? Lineage Cell Therapeutics and 3 others

The cell therapy development-related stocks that had good 2021s at least per their share prices include Regeneron (REGN), Vericel (VCEL), and Cryo-Cell (CCEL), and Lineage Cell Therapeutics (LCTX), which is up 25% YTD as of December 20.

Let’s start as I said with LCTX.

Lineage Cell Therapeutics is most well known long term I would say for its work on spinal cord injury. You can learn more about their effort from their Clinicaltrials.gov listings.

I’ve been following this firm for a very long time and they’re one of the most serious in terms of their core cell science.

The good news today for LCTX is that they have a deal with Roche and Genentech on their allogeneic retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cell approach to ocular diseases like macular degeneration. The financials of the deal are encouraging:

Genentech will pay Lineage a $50 million upfront payment and Lineage is eligible to receive up to $620 million in additional milestone payments, in addition to tiered double- digit royalties.

This is all good news for those with vision loss in terms of real hope for the future. With several firms and teams like Masayo Takahashi’s working in this space the overall push on stem cells for vision loss is far more likely to succeed in coming years.

What were the other firms that had a good 2021?

  • Regeneron, up 36% for YTD, is developing several products including an antibody cocktail against COVID-19. In recent news, its cocktail has had only mixed results on the new omicron variant.
  • Vericel, up around 20% YTD, makes cell therapies for burns and some sports medicine injuries.
  • Cryo-Cell, up 85% YTD, is a cord blood banking firm that is trying to also become a cell therapy firm. I have some major concerns about the way Cryo-Cell is trying to set up a clinic to sell unproven cord cell interventions along with Duke. Still so far, investors are liking what they are seeing, and being newly listed on the NASDAQ in 2021 has helped the stock. The future will depend to a great deal on whether the FDA allows the firm to open that controversial clinic. Because of that question mark, I see major risk to this stock in 2022.

Looking ahead

I hope far more than 4 of these stocks have a good 2022.

Some major positive clinical trial outcomes related to cells for COVID-19, should they materialize, would likely be a boost for many, even those not directly involved. Cell therapy interventions for COVID-19 would also be competing with far simpler anti-viral pills, which have had some substantial success in trials.

I’ll make some formal stem cell predictions for 2022 in the next week or so and plan to include stocks in there as at least one prediction. As some readers of The Niche who are investors like to point out, I’m not an active investor myself and in that spirit this post is not meant as financial advice. It’s just a stem cell biologist thinking about some cell therapy biotechs.

3 thoughts on “2021 scorecard for stem cell stocks: REGN, VCEL, CCEL, LCTX did best”

  1. First in human retinal regeneration, first reported in 2020: https://imgur.com/gallery/1i4fTBk

    Since then it has been replicated, with a total of 4 patients showing clear signs of regeneration of multiple retinal layers, using only a youthful (hESC-derived) RPE cell transplant.

    https://imgur.com/gallery/Bn0s7eW

    Retinal regeneration is suggestive of RPE cell integration. This is probably the most important clinical finding in *regenerative* cell therapy history: we know that the human eye does not have the capacity to regenerate retina tissue, and GA AMD is one of the most severe and common diseases of an aging population.

    The investigators will probably publish in a Nature/Lancet/Science journal next year…

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