ASCO Wrap-Up: A Summary of This Week’s Cancer R&D Headlines

6/5/12Follow @xconomy

There’s so much going on in the world of cancer drug R&D that it’s hard to keep up with all the news about drugs that are changing the standards of care. And quite a few of those standards are changing, based on a quick rundown of what was new at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.

The annual conference, winding down now in Chicago, is the biggest gathering for cancer doctors, drugmakers, investors, and journalists. Here are some storylines that I’ve been watching for some time, and that caught my eye from companies around our national network.

Genentech’s breast cancer “smart bomb” takes center stage

Genentech impressed doctors and analysts at this year’s conference with data from its souped-up breast cancer drug called trastuzumab emtansine (T-DM1). This drug beat a couple of active treatments in a head-to-head study of 991 patients with relapsed breast cancer that carries a mutated form of the HER2 protein. The new therapy kept tumors in check for a longer period of time, caused fewer toxic side effects, and showed it is on pace to help extend the lives of these very sick patients. The finding is not only big news for Genentech and for HER2-positive breast cancer patients, but also for scientists, because this performance is helping crack open the field of “smart bomb” antibodies, also known as “antibody-drug conjugates.” These kinds of drugs, which have eluded scientists for decades, are designed to combine the targeting capability of an antibody with a toxin to make the drug more potent.

Jason Kantor, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets in San Francisco, called the T-DM1 clinical results, “a real ‘wow’ moment at ASCO. There was no aspect of the T-DM1 efficacy data that was not positive.”

For more, see the T-DM1 story from Andy Pollack in Sunday’s New York Times and from AP’s veteran medical writer Marilynn Marchione. I also had a story on Xconomy with comments from Genentech VP Dietmar Berger.

The prostate cancer battle royal has begun

Prostate cancer was once a backwater for life science innovation, but not anymore. Johnson & Johnson’s abiraterone (Zytiga) made big news at this year’s ASCO with positive (and somewhat controversial) results from a study of more than 1,000 men known as the ‘302 trial. Essentially, the J&J drug is helping delay the spread of tumors in men whose disease no longer responds to chemical castration, but who haven’t yet turned to chemotherapy. It also helps delay the onset of pain. That’s clearly good news, but because of the positive results, an independent monitoring board recommended the study be halted earlier than planned. While the trends in the study suggest the J&J drug is helping men live longer, the study was halted too early for J&J to state unequivocally that it can reach the gold standard measurement of effectiveness. Bloomberg News’ Michelle Cortez had a solid summary of the news, consultant Pieter Droppert criticized the monitoring board’s decision in a guest post for Xconomy, and Matthew Herper wrote a sharp analysis of the situation yesterday on Forbes. Andy Pollack at the NYT weighed in with a report about how all this prostate cancer progress is coming with some very hefty price tags.

While J&J got more of the headlines, San Francisco-based Medivation (NASDAQ: MDVN) got its share of buzz. This company, along with partner Astellas Pharma, showed off data from a clinical trial that showed their drug enzalutamide (MDV3100) was clearly able to help men live longer, delay the onset of pain, and improve quality of life in men with the last stage of prostate cancer—disease that had worsened after a previous round of chemotherapy. That terrific performance in the sickest of the sick has gotten doctors buzzing about whether Medivation will ultimately become the dominant player in this market once it gathers results in 2013 from another study in the larger pre-chemo patient population.

All this progress is bad news for Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN), the company that won FDA approval in 2010 for a pioneering treatment that spurs the immune system to fight prostate cancer. David Miller, president of Biotech Stock Research and a longtime Dendreon bull, said in a note to clients that he’s not yet ready to write Dendreon’s obituary, but he warned … Next Page »

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  • MyDisqusID2

    Andy Pollack at the NYT weighed in with a report about how all this prostate cancer progress is coming with some very hefty price tags.

    The hotlink takes you back to June 2011, Luke.