Biotechs to Watch in the Blood Business
Companies making headlines at an annual hematology conference.
One of the biggest headlines from the conference came from Cephalon (CEPH) about Treanda, a treatment for the blood cancer non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Treanda was approved as a second-line therapy after the standard of care proves ineffective in some patients.
A study presented at the ASH meeting by the University Hospital in Giessen, Germany, showed that a combination of Treanda with Rituxan is more effective as a first-line therapy than the current standard of care, a four-drug regimen referred to as CHOP along with Rituxan, which is made by Roche (RHHBY) and Biogen Idec (BIIB).
"While the CHOP and rituximab [Rituxan] combination is the current standard of care, it is frequently associated with serious adverse events and more side effects, as was further shown in this study," said Mathias J. Rummel, head of the department for hematology at the University Hospital in Giessen, Germany. "These promising results suggest that the combination of bendamustine [Treanda] and rituximab [Rituxan] has the potential to become the new standard, first-line treatment option for patients with these non-Hodgkin lymphoma entities."
Treanda had worldwide sales of $160.5 million in the first nine months of 2009. Soleil Securities analysts recently reiterated the firm's Buy rating on Cephalon and wrote that the new data could push Treanda revenues up to $465 million by 2012. The news nudged Cephalon's stock up 2.4% to $56.71 in midday trading on Monday.
Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX) failed to impress investors with data from a recent early-stage study that showed its drug carfilzomib offered promising results in patients with relapsed multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
The treatment extended the lives of patients a few months longer than patients who were treated with Takeda's Velcade, but it may be too early in the development of the drug to elicit excitement over the stock just yet.
The company hopes to file for approval of the drug with the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2010. Shares of the company were off slightly, lingering around $29.52 in midday trading.
Meanwhile, Incyte (INCY) reported that its latest-stage drug, INCB424, shrank spleen size, limited fatigue, and improved walking ability in patients with myelofibrosis, a bone marrow disease that limits the body's ability to produce blood cells. The company recently penned an agreement with Novartis (NVS) on the drug that paid Incyte $210 million upfront and could lead to another $1.1 billion in development and milestone payments.
Leerink Swann analyst Joshua Schimmer projects annual US sales of $300 million for the drug if it's approved for myelofibrosis. Schimmer has an Outperform rating on the stock, which was trading around $8.00 on Monday, and has more than doubled in the last year.
Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and its partner Facet Biotech (FACT) added to the news coming out of ASH with an update of early-to-mid-stage studies on elotuzumab, a treatment for relapsed multiple myeloma.
"The preliminary data presented today show that elotuzumab in combination with lenalidomide and dexamethasone may have potential as a treatment option for patients with multiple myeloma," said Facet Chief Executive Faheem Hasnain. "We are working closely with our partners at Bristol-Myers Squibb to finalize next steps for the elotuzumab development program, and anticipate initiating a global Phase II study in the first half of 2010."
According to the National Cancer Institute, there have been 20,580 new cases of multiple myeloma reported in 2009; more than 10,500 people died from the disease this year.
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