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

6/7/11Follow @xconomy

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sipuleucel-T (Provenge) to better understand what the immune-boosting treatment is doing for prostate cancer patients. In one analysis of a subgroup of patients who entered the Dendreon without pain or the need for addictive painkillers, researchers found that 39 percent of Provenge patients were pain free after 12 months, compared with 19 percent in the control group. The finding wasn’t statistically significant, so there’s a chance it could be a fluke. Still, JP Morgan analyst Cory Kasimov said the chance to offset the pain of prostate cancer could be a selling point. “We see this as added help for Provenge to gain better understanding and traction,” he wrote.

Seattle Genetics. Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) had a good day yesterday as its stock climbed after researchers saw reports on its drug, brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris), for rare lymphomas. “The doctors around the posters yesterday afternoon were uniformly positive to the point of being a little giddy,” David Miller of Biotech Stock Research wrote in a note to clients.

The Seattle Genetics drug, which is being developed in partnership with Cambridge, MA-based Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, showed last December at another meeting that it could completely shrink tumors of 34 percent of patients with relapsed forms of Hodgkin’s disease, and when partial responses were included, the number climbed to 75 percent. Now, with more follow up time, the companies reported that the complete responses are long-lasting—a median of 20 months before their disease worsened. One researcher from City of Hope was quoted in a company statement, calling the follow-up reports “clinically meaningful.”

New York

Pfizer. There are two big new drug names from Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) to remember from this year’s ASCO—crizotinib and axitinib.

The crizotinib data has had researchers buzzing for months now, and the data at ASCO kept the hope going. The drug, for about 4 percent of lung cancer patients with a genetic mutation, was found to keep 74 percent of patients alive after a year and 54 percent alive after two years, according to a recap from the Associated Press. Researchers still couldn’t calculate the median survival time, because more than half the 82 patients are still alive. Pfizer has already applied for FDA approval on a faster-than-usual timeline, and the FDA has granted a speedy review, which it sometimes does for potentially lifesaving medicines.

Pfizer’s other drug that got some attention at ASCO was axitinib for patients with kidney cancer. One study found that the Pfizer drug was able to keep tumors from spreading an additional two months, when compared with Onyx Pharmaceuticals and Bayer’s sorafenib (Nexavar). One researcher told HemOnc Today that the trial was important because most studies to date in this group of patients have compared new drugs against placebos—not against existing standards of care like this Pfizer trial.

Merck. The biggest news from the Whitehouse Station, NJ-based drugmaker was from a joint statement in which it detailed the pivotal trial results of its new sarcoma drug, along with partner Ariad Pharmaceuticals. Today, Merck also said it has reached an agreement with Roche under which the Switzerland-based healthcare giant will develop diagnostic tests for Merck’s experimental cancer drugs. Terms of that deal weren’t disclosed.

San Diego

VentiRx Pharmaceuticals. This small company, which has operations in both San Diego and Seattle, presented some data from a small study of 33 patients who got its immune booster, VTX-2237, for a variety of solid tumors. The company found its drug’s side effects were mostly mild to moderate reactions around injection sites, and flu-like symptoms. Based on the findings, the company said it plans to move ahead with four clinical trials of this immune-booster in combination with chemotherapies, antibodies, and radiation treatments.

Ligand Pharmaceuticals. San Diego-based Ligand (NASDAQ: LGND) released some preliminary data from a new chemical formulation of a chemotherapy known as melphalan. Ligand’s reformulation is supposed to allow for longer administration times and slower IV infusion rates, which it says could “enable clinicians to safely achieve a higher dose intensity of pre-transplant chemotherapy.”

Results of a multiple myeloma study found patients were able to get about 10 percent more of the chemo agent into the bloodstream with the reformulated version without adding any new side effects. One researcher quoted in a company release said this could represent a “significant improvement.”

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