ASCO Wrap-Up: Cancer News from the East, South, & Rockies
The herds who attended the American Society of Clinical Oncology have now gone home after a frenzied few days of absorbing what’s new in cancer R&D. Yesterday, I wrapped up some of the big news from cancer drugmakers on the West Coast, and now I’m attempting to hit the highlights of companies from the other innovation hubs in the Xconomy network.
There’s a lot to digest here, so without any further windup, here’s what caught my eye from our various locales:
Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO): The Waltham, MA-based cancer drug developer raised more than $100 million in venture capital in 2011, and then went out and pulled in more than $80 million a year later in an IPO, largely on speculation that it had a seasoned management team of cancer drug developers who could do it again. This year at ASCO, the company started to show some very preliminary clinical trial data, and investors went all gaga for it.
Tesaro’s lead compound is niraparib, one of several drugs designed to fight cancer by inhibiting a target called PARP. The company made a minor announcement on Monday at ASCO, saying it had struck an agreement with a European physician network to conduct a pivotal study of 360 patients with ovarian cancer. Yesterday, Tesaro presented some preliminary data that said three out of four patients on an optimal dose of niraparib, who had a chemotherapy-sensitive form of ovarian cancer, had significant tumor shrinkage. Half of the patients with chemo-sensitive ovarian cancer and mutations to their BRCA genes (five out of 10 patients) had significant tumor shrinkage, even when including patients who got lower doses. Side effects consisted mostly of anemia, fatigue, and nausea, which were mild to moderate in severity. The drug appeared to keep tumors in check for more than a year for patients who have mutations to the BRCA genes that raise cancer risk, and for patients without those genetic mutations, the company said.
There are other tough competitors in the PARP field—notably San Rafael, CA-based BioMarin Pharmaceutical, London-based AstraZeneca, and North Chicago, IL-based AbbVie—but one key rival dropped out of the race this week. Paris-based Sanofi said it was taking a $285 million write-off on its PARP inhibitor after it failed in a pivotal lung cancer study. Investors apparently like Tesaro’s chances of standing out in the crowd. Shares of Tesaro shot up from $34.21 on Friday, to briefly eclipse $50 a share on Tuesday.
Synta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SNTA): The Lexington, MA-based cancer drugmaker saw its shares drop the most in four years on Monday after Synta reported that survival results for its lung cancer drug fell short of investor expectations, according to a report by Bloomberg News. The company said patients lived a median time of 9.8 months on a combination of its ganetespib drug and standard docetaxel chemotherapy, compared with 7.4 months for those who got docetaxel alone, in a trial of 252 patients presented at ASCO. The product is designed to inhibit a protein called Hsp90, which scientists say serves as a chaperone that helps cancer cells grow and proliferate.
Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI): The Cambridge, MA-based cancer drug developer had a see-saw ride at ASCO this year. Shares tanked on Monday, then bounced back on Tuesday. Infinity’s most important product is IPI-145, an inhibitor of the PI3 kinase biological target, in particular its delta and gamma variations. Gilead Sciences rolled out some impressive results from clinical trials of its competing PI3k-delta inhibitor, idelalisib, which is moving ahead in a series of pivotal clinical trials for blood cancers. On Monday, Infinity said that 13 of 19 patients with slow-growing (indolent) non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (68 percent) had significant tumor shrinkage on its drug, with three complete responses and 10 partial responses. Another study showed that 12 of 22 patients with relapsed forms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (55 percent) had tumor shrinkage. There was some moderate to severe liver toxicity observed in patients on the Infinity drug, which was seen in 21 of 68 lymphoma patients, researchers said.
By Tuesday, the storm appeared to have passed. Infinity stock fell from Friday’s close of $26.95 to $16.41 at the end of Monday, the first day of ASCO. But on Tuesday, it regained some of the value it had lost, climbing back over $20. Much of the roller-coaster stock action was apparently based on investor fears that the Infinity drug was more toxic than previously believed, and based on some comparisons seen in other studies. “Yesterday’s concerns with IPI-145’s safety profile were overdone, and that at this stage it appears to be in line with other agents in development – a point that study investigators have been highlighting all weekend,” said JP Morgan analyst Cory Kasimov, in a note to clients yesterday.
ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN): The Waltham, MA-based biotech has had a good year, as it stands to collect royalties on Genentech’s next big thing—the “supercharged” version of its targeted breast cancer drug, trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla). But it has long yearned to show investors that it can make more potent antibodies for cancer on its own, without leaning on partners to do most of the heavy lifting. Preliminary results from 18 patients who got a variety of escalating doses didn’t say much about how effective ImmunoGen’s latest drug candidate, IMGN853, really is. The company cited three cases of significant tumor shrinkage on patients who got moderate to high doses of its drug, and noted that all three responders had tumors that had a lot of FR alpha biologic targets on them—the target that ImmunoGen’s drug is supposed to hit. The drug is now advancing in further development, and ImmunoGen plans to seek out FR alpha over-expressers with a variety of different tumor types, including ovarian cancer, non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma, and endometrial cancer.