Amgen Shows Off Cancer Drug Pipeline Before Scientific Meeting

4/16/09Follow @xconomy

Amgen became the world’s biggest biotech company because of its ability to treat the side effects of cancer chemotherapy. But Amgen’s dream over the past decade has been to get into the game of targeted cancer drugs that actually kill tumors, and over the next few years it will find out if it will be a contender in the decade to come.

Today, Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) offered the media a glimpse of eight different cancer drugs that are being put to the test in 40 different clinical trials in the middle to late stages of development. This presentation was delivered by Roy Baynes, Amgen’s vice president for global development in hematology/oncology, on the eve of the American Association for Cancer Research meeting being held this weekend in Denver, CO.

This pipeline looks bigger and deeper than the last time I checked in on the Amgen cancer drug pipeline, as an advance feature before last year’s AACR meeting, in this story for Bloomberg. As I mentioned then, the market for cancer drugs doubled in recent years, and is projected to reach $67 billion worldwide in 2012, according to market research firm Decision Resources.

Amgen captures only a tiny sliver of that with its first anti-tumor drug, panitumumab (Vectibix), a targeted antibody for colorectal cancer. The interesting part about the Vectibix story is that Amgen is trying to breathe new life into this product by showing data that suggests it works better for patients with a certain type of genetic profile. But Amgen didn’t have much to say about this existing drug, and more to say about what’s following that in the pipeline, and how these drugs might be used in various combination treatments with other products currently on the market.

“Amgen finds itself in the middle of a transformation,” Baynes said. Investments made at the beginning of this decade in cancer research are starting to show results, he said. “We’re at the midpoint of seeing the fruition of programs we put in place.”

With that, here are a few specifics of what Amgen said to watch for in years ahead. (Beware, some of these clunky drug names probably require a pronunciation guide.)

—Denosumab. This drug, called Dmab for short, is the potential billion-dollar molecule in Amgen’s pipeline that analysts have been writing about for months. It’s a treatment for osteoporosis, cancer, and the bone breakdown that can result from cancer therapy. Dmab is designed to work unlike any other treatment on the market for osteoporosis, or for bone tumors. It is meant to block the action of a protein called RANK Ligand, which activates osteoclast cells that lead to the breakdown of bones, as I described in this feature in October.

Amgen has completed enrollment in a host of clinical trials of more than 21,000 patients on this drug, Baynes said. It expects to release results of a big Dmab trial before the end of September to see if it can help improve the bone health of breast cancer patients, and before the end of the year among patients with other solid tumors. Trials of Dmab for prostate cancer should produce results in 2010, he said.

—AMG-386. This drug candidate is designed to block the formation of blood vessels in tumors, and works through a different mechanism of action than the standard-bearer of this field, Genentech/Roche’s bevacizumab (Avastin). The Amgen candidate in is mid-stage studies for colorectal cancer, gastric, breast, ovarian, and other cancers. Results from a mid-stage study of gastric cancer should be available before year-end.

—Conatumumab. This drug, also called AMG-655, is a genetically-engineered antibody designed to trigger a programmed cell death process in cancer cells, known as apoptosis. This drug is in mid-stage clinical trials for colorectal cancer. Results from a mid stage study of patients with sarcoma and non-small cell lung cancer are expected by the end of the year.

—Another drug designed to trigger apoptosis in cancer cells, called dulanermin, is being developed together with Genentech/Roche in combination with rituximab (Rituxan) for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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