Millennium, Banking on Velcade and More, Gears Up for Eagerly Anticipated Blood Cancer Meeting

Xconomy Boston — 

Each spring, everybody and their brother in biotech goes to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting to check out the hot new stuff in cancer drug development. But for Cambridge, MA-based Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, the bigger medical meeting is coming up this weekend, where a whole string of clinical trials will be unveiled that could alter fortunes and change the way doctors treat specific malignancies that lurk in the blood.

Millennium and its partners and competitors will gather this weekend for the American Society of Hematology (ASH) conference in Orlando, FL, to woo the influential physicians who can anoint the top new products for treating blood disorders and blood cancers. About 20,000 people are expected to attend this conference, many of them looking for the next big thing in the treatment of rare leukemias, lymphomas, and myelomas.

Millennium is a mainstay at this meeting, having developed a $1 billion hit molecule in bortezomib (Velcade) for multiple myeloma. Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceuticals paid $8.8 billion to acquire Millennium in 2008. So the big question for Millennium now is how it can continue to keep the momentum going for its one big hit, and what else it has in the pipeline to represent future growth. The company surely will also be keeping a close eye on its competitors, including Emeryville, CA-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX). Onyx is expected to release clinical trial data on a drug that seeks to help patients with myeloma even after they stop responding to the Millennium drug. I plan to report on that drug, carfilzomib, separately on Xconomy’s San Francisco site.

I caught up with Millennium’s chief medical officer, Nancy Simonian, by phone right before Thanksgiving to get a sense of what themes to watch for at the upcoming ASH meeting. She was pumped right off the bat. “It’s going to be a pretty exciting ASH,” she said. Here are three main themes we talked about.

Nancy Simonian

Nancy Simonian

Velcade as a maintenance therapy. “When you as a patient present with myeloma-one of the major goals with initial treatment is to get the tumor burden down,” Simonian says. That means there’s a strong rationale for an intense upfront dosing schedule, which shows quick anti-tumor results.

What doctors don’t know as much about is what happens later, after the tumor is shrunk. What is the best way to structure a low-dose maintenance regimen, to keep the tumors from coming back? How can you do this to make sure the drug won’t increase nerve damage in the fingers and toes—a known side effect of the Millennium product. There is no consensus on this approach, and what might be the best dosing schedule, Simonian says. But obviously, since patients are living longer, if Millennium can sell consistent amounts of the drug to patients over a longer period of time, that would translate into more sales.

“The important thing emerging is how can we think about giving it in a way that maximizes the benefit and minimizes the intolerability,” Simonian says.

There are a couple of studies to watch in particular … Next Page »

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One response to “Millennium, Banking on Velcade and More, Gears Up for Eagerly Anticipated Blood Cancer Meeting”

  1. Edward says:

    It makes me a little nauseous to imagine people licking their lips at the thought of profiting from these drugs. Why can’t we make drugs to help one another and not depend on profit? Why must the good will that is in the heart of researcher and drug owner be dormant? One reason is journalists like yourself who write about these drugs informatively, but so coldly instead of seeing other possiblities in human nature and encouraging them in people.