I recently heard from an old friend. He told me of his battle
with colon cancer.
His doctors had given him a 30% chance of surviving, but
thanks a new generation of powerful anti-cancer drugs, his cancer
has been in remission for nearly five years now.
You probably know someone like that, too.
Simplyput , a diagnosis of cancer is no longer a death
sentence. In fact, so much groundbreaking research is being done
that doctors are starting to envision a future in which cancer is
merely a setback.
In this two-part look at the war on cancer, we'll focus on the
progress made, the breakthroughs yet to come, and some of the
most promising young companies leading the fight.
The War Is Still On
Although oncologists are making rapidgains , cancer remains a
formidable foe. Some 575,000 Americans died from cancer in 2011,
making it the second-leading killer behind heart disease,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More
people died from cancer than from strokes, accidents,
Alzheimer's, diabetes, liver failure, and influenza/pneumonia --
Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer for men
(accounting for 29% of all men's cancers in 2011, according to
the American Cancer Society), while breast cancer (also 29%) is
the leading type of cancer in women. Yet those aren't the most
Lung cancer remains the most virulent and hard-to-treat form
of cancer, accounting for more than a quarter of all
cancer-related deaths. (That's a good argument to quit
Here's the bad news: Men have a 45% chance of being diagnosed
with cancer at some point in their lives; that figure is 38% for
women. But there is a pair of countervailingfactors to consider
with those numbers.
First, those numbers are rising slightly simply because people
are living longer than they did even several decades ago. Second,
the number of smokers continues to drop, which is starting to
produce fewer incidences of lung cancer. But even though cancer
diagnoses are rising, cancer deaths are falling, thanks to a slew
of effective drugs that have come on themarket in recent
Americans spent nearly $14 billion on the 10 best-selling
cancer drugs in 2011, and that figure is steadily rising.
Top-Selling Cancer Drugs of 2011
Only one company,
Roche Holding (
, can be seen as a major player in the war on cancer, with five
different drugs accounting for roughly $8.5 billion in
annualsales . (Thecredit really goes to biotech pioneer
Genentech, which Roche acquired in 2009 for $47 billion.) Roche's
drugs have considerable life left on theirpatents , and consensus
forecasts predict Roche's Avastin, Rituxan and Herceptinwill have
$8.9 billion, $7.4 billion and $6.4 billion, respectively, in
sales by 2014.
Yet there's a good chance that some of these 10 drugs will not
be among the top sellers in five years. That's because doctors
appear to making significant headway in clinical testing of new
drugs, and some of them are shaping up to be potential
Over the course of 2012, a slew of new cancer-fighting drugs
were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
- Xtandi, a prostate cancer drug jointly launched by
Medivation (Nasdaq: MDVN)
Astellas Pharma (
, which racked up $71 million in sales in less than half ayear
on the market in 2012.Analysts at
project first-quarter sales of at least as much, highlighting
an impressive sales ramp for this drug. Sales of Xtandi may
reach $1 billion by 2015, according to Citigroup, which has a
$70 target price on thestock , 35% above current levels.
- Inlyta, a renal cancer drug sold by
, which racked up $70 million in sales last year.
- Kyprolis, a blood cancer (multiple myeloma) drug launched
Onyx Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ONXX)
in the middle of 2012, still managed to rack up $64 million in
sales last year. It's heading toward $250 million in sales this
year, according to Merrill Lynch. The market for multiple
myeloma drugs is dominated by
Takeda Pharmaceutical's (
Velcade, though analysts think both Velcade and Kyprolis could
generate several billion dollars in annual sales within a few
years as hematologists become more comfortable with the
efficacy and safety profile of these drugs.
If you are looking to focus on stable yet growing biotech
firms focusing on cancer but want to aim outside the realm of Big
Pharma, here are a couple of names to check out:
I've noted Onyx's promising Kyprolis drug already, but Onyx also
launched Stivarga, which targets colorectal cancer, last year in
conjunction with Bayer Healthcare. Analysts expect Onyx's total
sales to rise at least 40% annually through 2015 (to around $1.2
That figure could rise higher in subsequent years if the
company's Nexavar (kidney and liver cancer) drug successfully
completes late-stage clinical trials and arrives on the market by
Ariad Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ARIA)
Ariad launched its first cancer drug (Iclusig, which treats blood
cancer) late last year and is on track for more than $50 million
in sales this year.
Thatrevenue base could grow as Iclusig begins to be prescribed
at earlier stages in cancer development. Iclusig is currently
used only when other remedies fail to arrest the cancer's
development. Sales should exceed $500 million by 2015, according
to Goldman Sachs' forecasts.
Another cancer drug for Ariad, AP26113, which targets lung
cancer, has shown clear promise in early stages of clinical
In the next part of this profile of oncology breakthroughs,
we'll look at the novel ways in which scientists are tackling
cancer -- as well as at the young biotech firms that may be best
positioned to do battle in the next phases of the war on
Risks to Consider:
As with any top-selling drug, you need to keep an eye on
competitive industry developments. A promising drug in clinical
trials could eventually create real sales challenges for existing
Action to Take -->
The war on cancer is still in its early stages. After all, the
rate of deaths from cancer has been falling less than 1% annually
as these new top-selling drugs hit the market. More progress will
need to be made. The current focus of cancer research, as I'll
discuss in my next column, aims to make faster progress in this
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