Cancer Drug Winners And Losers



Matthew Herper and Robert Langreth 06.02.08, 1:09 PM ET

Chicago – Every year, drug companies big and small make their way to the annual meeting of the American College of Clinical Oncology, a showplace for new cancer medicines.

The data presented at ASCO can have a huge impact both on the share prices of drug firms and on the long-term sales of their medicines. Here’s a roundup of the most important drug studies from the meeting and a look at how they will affect the companies involved.

Winner: Novartis (nyse: NVS news people )

The pharmaceutical giant stole the show. Zometa, a drug already approved to treat weakening bones in cancer patients,


slashed the recurrence of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women by about 35% in an 1,800-person trial, when combined with standard treatment. It’s not clear why, but it may prevent tumors from spreading

(see “Novartis Steals The Show”).

Novartis’ kidney cancer treatment RAD001 delayed tumor growth by two months in patients who had failed Pfizer’s (nyse: PFE news people )


Sutent. The drug would compete with Nexavar, from Onyx Pharmaceuticals (nasdaq: ONXX news people ) and Bayer (nyse: BAY news people ), and Torisel, from Wyeth (nyse: WYE news people ), but could benefit from a clinical trial designed that tested it specifically as an option in Sutent failures. The other drugs are approved as first choices, and compete with Sutent, which has the lion’s share. Novartis shares are up 2.3% to $53.50.

Novartis has 13 cancer drugs in development, more than any company but Pfizer, AstraZeneca (nyse: AZN news people ) and Genentech (nyse: DNA news people ). It expects to soon rank second in oncology sales after Genentech.

Loser: ImClone Systems (nasdaq: IMCL news people )

ImClone and its partners, Bristol-Myers Squibb (nyse: BMY news people ) and Merck (nyse: MRK news people ) KgAA disclosed last September that its Erbitux had extended survival in patients with non-small cell lung cancer in a clinical trial. But the final results–a five-week extension of life for the average patient–were barely statistically significant. That will allow ImClone and its partners to grab sales in the lung cancer market, especially in those patients who can’t take Avastin.

But it may not make up another result: clear proof that a gene test can help predict whether Erbitux is going to help colon cancer patients. Patients with a mutant version of a gene called KRAS comprise 40% of the people getting Erbitux, and they’ve been getting no benefit at all. As Forbes reported two weeks ago, this could lead to a sales slump. ImClone shares dropped 6% in early morning trading to $40.

(See: ImClone’s Gene Test Battle.)

Winner: Genentech

Genentech’s Avastin won’t face as much competition as many feared from ImClone’s Erbitux in non-small cell lung cancer, but new data also supported Avastin’s use in breast cancer.


Shares are up 3.4% to $73.

Winners: Infinity Pharmaceuticals (nasdaq: INFI news people ) and Exelixis (nasdaq: EXEL news people )

On Saturday, Infinity announced it was skipping mid-stage trials and going directly from early-stage safety and efficacy tests into a study designed to get its IPI-504 approved as a treatment for patients with stomach tumors who are no longer being helped by Novartis’ Gleevec or Pfizer’s Sutent. It’s a small market, but it could result in a speedy approval.

Sunday Exelixis also said it is jumping directly into an approval trial, known as a Phase III study, from very early stage tests of its cancer drug XL184 in medullary thyroid cancer. It will be the first of Exelixis’ drugs to enter phase III. Fifty-three percent of patients taking the drug saw their tumors shrink. Infinity shares jumped 11% to $8.13, and Exelixis shares slipped 2% to $6.20.

Winner: Avant Immunotherapeutics nasdaq: AVAN news people

Avant is developing an immunotherapy, or cancer vaccine, for brain tumors with Pfizer. The vaccine is targeted against a mutated protein that only occurs in brain cancer cells. In a phase II trial, the average patient with glioblastoma who received the therapy, known as CDX-110, lived 33 months, twice as long as expected. Avant shares are up 36% to $19.20.


“When we look at our patients they live at least twice as long” as would be expected, says Duke University neurosurgeon John Sampson. “We have a number of patients three or four years out with

no evidence of tumors.

Sourced and published by HenrySapiecha 3rd May 2009

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