Genentech Gears Up for ASCO, Pushing Data on Personalized Cancer Medicine

5/18/11Follow @xconomy

It’s the season for playoff-level intensity for a bunch of Big Pharma and biotech companies. They’re all psyched up, over the next two weeks, to show clinical trial results for their drugs at the annual extravaganza for cancer doctors, put on by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Win over those influential doctors, and you might gain some market share in an estimated $80 billion market for cancer drugs. Lose, and, like they say in the sports world, you can basically go home (or at least try to explain to investors why you lost and plan to mount a comeback next year).

If you’re Genentech, the South San Francisco-based unit of Roche, the world’s largest cancer drugmaker, then nobody has more at stake at this meeting than you. So as the abstracts go online this afternoon at the ASCO website, I took some time to chat with Philippe Bishop, the vice president of clinical development at Genentech, to get a read on the big studies that will compete for mindshare amid the frenzy of 30,000 doctors, investors, competitors, and journalists on hand at ASCO’s annual meeting in Chicago, June 3-7.

Headlines are firing like synapses all over the Internet as you read this, but most of the studies being presented at this year’s ASCO, like most in the past, will represent incremental progress at best. But this year Genentech says it is looking forward to touting some of the biggest advancements from its pipeline in a long time.

“We are a society that wants answers right away, in the big scheme of things,” Bishop says. “But the science is maturing, and we are seeing the fruits of that research. We’re beginning to see the results and true commitment that is behind these programs. We’ve been impatient in wanting results right away. It takes time.”

Here are a few themes that Genentech, and its legion of followers, will be focused on at ASCO:

—The hot new thing for melanoma that has spread through the body—vemurafenib. This drug, developed in partnership with Berkeley, CA-based Plexxikon under the code name PLX4032, has been all the rage in the oncology business the past year. Plexxikon made waves initially when it published early-stage trial results showing that more than 80 percent of patients experienced tumor shrinkage—a stunning result in a field where 10-15 percent response rates are more common. The evidence mounted a few months later, when Plexxikon and Genentech showed in a pivotal clinical trial of more than 600 patients that the drug was able to help patients live longer with a deadly form of skin cancer—as long as they were among the 50 percent of patients with a mutated protein known as BRAF.

Genentech, and the powers that be at ASCO, aren’t yet releasing critical details on how much longer patients lived longer on the new drug, how long their tumors remained in check, or what kind of side effect profile emerged in this pivotal study known as BRIM3. The big scoop is being saved for a press conference on Sunday June 5, and for a plenary presentation by Paul Chapman of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

It doesn’t take a genius to know this data is going to be big. Japan-based Daiichi Sankyo paid $805 million upfront to acquire Plexxikon after the BRIM3 results arrived, and it also took about a nanosecond in drug development time for … Next Page »

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