- Australian biotech company Biotron (BIT) has claimed a significant breakthrough in treating HIV today
- The company’s BIT225 drug has brought in some astounding results from a Phase II clinical trial
- Essentially, the treatment has been proven to “unmask” hidden HIV cells in the body, allowing the immune system to attack the virus and kill it for good
- Ordinarily, HIV-infected cells stay hidden in the body indefinitely, meaning patients need life-long treatment
- Biotron will present today’s results to the Conference on Retroviral and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) this week
- Biotron is outperforming the market today with shares trading roughly 13 per cent higher at 13 cents each
While the Covid-19 pandemic dominates headlines and markets, Australian biotech company Biotron (BIT) is working hard on a cure for a different virus: HIV.
The company is presenting results from a Phase II clinical trial of its BIT225 drug at this week’s Conference on Retroviral and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), but shared the resulting with investors this morning.
Based on this morning’s ASX announcement, the results are astounding.
Essentially, Biotron said the trials showed that BIT225 “unmasks” hidden HIV-infected cells within the body, allowing the immune system to spot the dangerous cells and destroy them.
One of the primary issues researchers have faced in trying to cure HIV is the nature of the immune cells the virus infects. Known as CD4 cells, these cells have several important roles in the immune system, among which includes “remembering” previous infections.
Subsets of CD4 cells can become dormant and store a record of known infections. These dormant cells live in the body indefinitely.
However, once these cells are infected with HIV, the virus can continue to produce itself in the body by “hiding” in these dormant cells. The HIV cells are hidden from the immune system, which means even with anti-HIV drugs, the infection is never truly eradicated.
This is why HIV sufferers currently have to stay on treatment for life once they are infected.
Biotron said by combining BIT225 with current anti-HIV drugs, the treatment has been proven to help the immune system “see” these sneaky reservoir cells.
Once the hidden HIV-infected cells are unmasked, the body’s immune system can then work together with the anti-HIV drugs to kill off the infection for good.
Biotron tested BIT225 on 36 patients from Thailand. The drug was tested in combination with Atripla, an approved current anti-HIV drug, in a randomised control study.
The company told shareholders — and will soon present to CROI — that by adding BIT225 to antiretroviral therapy, “multiple arms of the innate immune system” are stimulated.
Further, BIT225 showed a slower decline of a patient’s CD4 cell count compared to the control. A decline in CD4 cells is the most dangerous side-effect of HIV and is usually associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and death.
Why so quiet?
Today’s news begs the question: if this truly is the HIV breakthrough Biotron claims, why is there not more interest in the company?
While the 13 per cent increase to the company’s share price today is still impressive, particularly given the struggling ASX, the company still operates in a market cap of less than $100 million.
Further, Biotron had just over $8.5 million cash on hand at the end of the December quarter with an expected $1.5 million in spending in the first quarter of 2020.
This means investors may be concerned the company does not have enough funds to progress the BIT225 HIV treatment to Phase III trials without more dilution.
Further, the company has not yet shared any details about potential big pharmacy partnerships — meaning BIT225 is likely not yet piquing the interest of the big companies.
As such, it seems investors are happy to wait until the dust settles on the hype of this morning’s announcement before placing any major orders. Regardless, Biotron will likely be under close scrutiny in the weeks to come as punters try to be first in line to snatch up new shares at the first sign of big pharma interest.
Still, Biotron is outperforming the market today with shares trading 13.04 per cent higher at 13 cents each.