ASCO Wrap-Up: The Skinny on Cancer News From All Corners of the U.S.

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South San Francisco-based Genentech and its partner, Berkeley, CA-based Plexxikon, for their development of a new drug for melanoma patients with a mutation of protein called BRAF. Melanoma is notorious as one of the toughest cancers of all to treat, so enthusiasm has been running high all year long, since Genentech and Plexxikon said a study of 675 patients showed their new drug, vemurafenib, helped prolong lives. At ASCO, researchers said 84 percent of patients taking the new drug were still alive after six months, compared with 64 percent of those getting the standard chemotherapy, dacarbazine.

More data needs to come in to determine how long patients can really expect to live on the new drug, but it was clearly superior, producing meaningful tumor shrinkage for 48.4 percent of patients, compared with 5.5 percent for the standard chemo—about a nine-fold improvement. “This is an unprecedented time of celebration for our patients,” Dr. Lynn Schuchter, a melanoma specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, told reporters Sunday at ASCO, according to a New York Times account.

Exelixis. The South San Francisco-based cancer drug developer (NASDAQ: EXEL) has been generating a lot of buzz among prostate cancer researchers for its lead drug’s ability to reduce the nasty toll that tumor metastases take on the bones. In 108 prostate cancer patients whose malignancy had spread to the bones, the Exelixis drug was able to partially or completely wipe out bone lesions. That translated into reduced pain and less dependence on narcotic pain medications, researchers said. There has been a lot of innovation lately in the prostate cancer field, but none of the new agents has demonstrated had an effect like that on bone pain, one of the devastating complications of prostate cancer as it moves into its late stages.

That story helped Exelixis raise almost $180 million earlier this year for an aggressive development plan, but some new disclosures at ASCO yesterday caused some nerves to rattle in the market. Exelixis said there were two drug-related deaths out of 70 patients with ovarian cancer treated with the company’s lead compound. Out of 490 patients with nine different malignancies who enrolled in studies of the drug, Exelixis reported six deaths. The stock fell 20 percent yesterday to $8.69 largely on the news.

ACT Biotech. San Francisco-based ACT Biotech offered a surprising bit of positive data from a small study of patients with stomach cancer. The tiny 7-person company, led by veterans of Onyx Pharmaceuticals and Proteolix, said that its lead drug produced significant tumor shrinkage in about two-thirds of patients (25 of 39), with mostly mild side effects like fatigue and high blood pressure. Plans are underway to take this into a more rigorous trial of 750 patients to see if it can help patients live longer.

Onyx Pharmaceuticals. South San Francisco-based Onyx (NASDAQ: ONXX) had a bigger data presentation for its lead drug candidate, carfilzomib, last December at the American Society of Hematology meeting. There weren’t any major updates on this drug for multiple myeloma, and investors are waiting for the company to take that one across the finish line for FDA approval. A bigger concern, cited by analyst Chris Raymond of Robert W. Baird, was how Onyx’s existing franchise drug, sorafenib (Nexavar), is holding up competitively after this year’s ASCO. “Post-ASCO, Nexavar’s competitive position—already tenuous in our view—took what we see as a bit of a body blow from Pfizer’s axitinib. Combining this with our skepticism of carfil’s accelerated approval chances, we remain cautious,” Raymond wrote.

Genomic Health. The Redwood City, CA-based company, which makes a genetic test that predicts whether cancer will recur, rolled out results from 10 studies that seek to demonstrate its usefulness in guiding treatment for breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.


Dendreon. Researchers continued to comb through the data on Dendreon’s … Next Page »

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