Can Pfizer Bank on New Immunotherapy Bavencio for Growth?

As demand for immuno-oncology drugs and their combinations rises, Pfizer, Inc. 's PFE newly approved immunotherapy, Bavencio, is being considered a significant top-line driver for this New York-based pharma giant.

Pfizer's shares are up 5.8% so far this year, comparing unfavorably with an increase of 13.3% for the industry.

Bavencio (previously avelumab) received FDA approval for metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare and aggressive skin cancer, in Mar 2017. With the FDA approval, Bavencio became the first immunotherapy option for the treatment of metastatic MCC. In May, Bavencio received FDA approval for a second indication. The drug was approved for urothelial carcinoma, an aggressive disease with a high rate of recurrence. Meanwhile, Bavencio is under review in the EU for MCC with a decision expected in the third quarter of 2017. Last month, the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) granted a positive opinion recommending approval of Bavencio for MCC.

Pfizer will focus on continuously growing and expanding Bavencio into new indications and markets globally.

Meanwhile, Bavencio is being studied in different types of cancers - including late stage-studies for renal cell carcinoma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck cancer - in collaboration with Merck KGaA. Pfizer has also initiated avelumab double/triple combination studies for chemotherapy and targeted therapies and has 11 avelumab combination therapies with immuno-oncology agents under development.

Immuno-oncology or immunotherapy is a new class of cancer therapy that utilizes certain parts of the immune system to fight the disease. This can be done by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells or by introducing immune system components into the body. Immuno-oncology drugs and their combinations are in great demand

Although Pfizer is among the major players in immunotherapy, there are several other companies, big as well as small, looking to develop and bring immunotherapy treatments to market.

Merck & Co., Inc. MRK is conducting numerous studies to evaluate its anti-PD-1 therapy, Keytruda for more than 30 types of cancer in more than 550 studies, including more than 300 combination studies. AstraZeneca plc's AZN recently approved immuno-oncology drug Imfinzi (durvalumab) is being evaluated for multiple cancers (either alone or in combination with other regimens) and has bright long-term prospects.

Meanwhile, smaller biotechs are also working to bring innovative immuno-oncology treatments to market. Kite Pharma's lead drug axicabtagene ciloleucel is currently under priority review in the U.S. for treating aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) with a FDA decision expected on Nov 29. Juno Therapeutics and Novartis AG NVS are developing JCAR017 and CTL019, respectively utilizing the CAR T cell technology.

However, we believe that Bavencio can give these drugs a tough run as there is ample scope for growth in the immuno-oncology space.

Pfizer carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today's Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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