ASCO Wrap-Up: Cancer News from the West Coast

Xconomy National — 

Anybody with a more than passing interest in cancer has been transfixed the last few days by the news coming out of Chicago. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting has been especially newsy this year, chock full of important clinical trial news—some good, some bad, and some that you’d have to give a grade of ‘incomplete.’

I’ve been reading, writing, and editing a lot about cancer the past few days, but no one can absorb all the information coming out of ASCO. So today, I figured I’d wrap up some of the highlights from cancer drugmakers on the West Coast, with more to come from other parts of the country later this week.

Here goes:

San Francisco

Genentech. The South San Francisco-based unit of Roche dominated last year’s ASCO with data from its “supercharged” version of Herceptin, but it had to share the spotlight this year. Genentech is one of three companies racing ahead in the cancer immunotherapy field, along with Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. The latter two companies made the biggest splash with their antibodies that seek to inhibit PD-1, which disables a cloaking mechanism that tumors use to evade the immune system attack. Genentech’s antibody is designed to go after a slightly different target, PD-L1, which it hopes will make its drug less toxic—but that could be a tough case to make because the Merck and Bristol-Myers drugs both appeared to be quite tolerable in results presented at ASCO. Researchers were clearly psyched to report high rates of tumor shrinkage, and long-lasting remissions among patients in the early trials of these drugs. Now all three companies are sprinting to get these programs through all the necessary clinical trials required for FDA approval.

There was some non-immunotherapy news, too. Genentech reported some very impressive data with its new “son of Rituxan” drug obinutuzumab (GA101) for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It also had some disappointment, too, as bevacizumab (Avastin) appeared to slow the progression of tumors in patients with glioblastoma, but the drug didn’t help the patients live longer.

Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX). The South San Francisco-based drugmaker had some modest good news to report for patients with thyroid cancer. Onyx’s sorafenib (Nexavar), which is already approved for kidney and liver cancer, showed it could keep tumors in check for a median time of 10.8 months in patients with thyroid cancer that had previously spread or resisted radiation therapy. That compared with 5.8 months for patients on the placebo. A total of 417 patients were enrolled in the study, known as Decision.

“The results were impressive, and we believe the leverage of follow-on indications with this product remains underappreciated by investors,” said Cory Kasimov, an analyst with JP Morgan, in a note to clients yesterday.

Yesterday, Onyx presented some data from a preliminary trial that showed carfilzomib (Kyprolis) was able to shrink tumors for about 91 percent of patients with newly diagnosed multiple myeloma, while the other 9 percent had stable disease. Updated data presented at ASCO was slightly better than results posted in an abstract, from an earlier data cut-off period. Onyx won FDA approval last year for the new drug for patients who have relapsed after getting other therapies, but it will capture a much bigger market opportunity if it can replicate these results in newly diagnosed patients. “The results, which were already “unprecedented” according to past investigators, continue to get better,” Kasimov wrote.

BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: BMRN). The San Rafael, CA-based company is best known for treating rare diseases, but it is gaining an increasing following for its work in cancer. It is one of several companies in the race to make drugs to inhibit poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP). The drug, called BMN 673, showed it could shrink tumors in 11 of 25 patients with breast and ovarian cancers that are very hard to treat, because they are driven by mutated forms of the BRCA genes. BioMarin is moving … Next Page »

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