Was ASCO Quieter for Big Drug/Biotech Stocks This Year?

The world of cancer research is seeing huge developments and companies are taking great strides to find treatments for a variety of cancers.

The five-day long ASCO conference, which is basically the most important annual cancer research event, held in Chicago concluded on Tuesday. The conference featured clinical updates from several companies about the latest developments in treating the disease. Cancer research is definitely an exciting area and one that investors will keep a close watch on in the coming years. This is because the disease is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality across the world preceded only by heart disease.

Though this year’s event was labelled by many as unusually quiet as far as big drug/biotech companies are concerned, still, a lot of impactful data was presented.

Amgen AMGN presented encouraging initial data set for AMG 510, its novel investigational KRAS inhibitor for solid tumor. In the phase I study, AMG 510, when given as a monotherapy, showed encouraging anti-tumor activity in patients with locally-advanced or metastatic KRASG12C mutant solid tumors.

KRAS gene has been a target of active exploration in cancer research and is particularly common in solid tumors. Amgen believes that AMG 510 has the potential to be developed into a successful targeted therapy to treat patients with the KRASG12C mutation due to its high selectivity for this mutation. Amgen also presented data from an early-stage study of AMG 420, a bispecific T-cell engager (BiTE) molecule that binds to BCMA and CD3.

Merck MRK and Bristol-Myers BMY presented long-term follow up data on their successful PD-L1 inhibitors, Keytruda and Opdivo, respectively.

Merck presented longest follow-up data on Keytruda in advance lung cancer. Data from the phase Ib KEYNOTE-001 study (n=550) showed that five-year overall survival (OS) rates for Keytruda were 23.2% in treatment-naïve patients and 15.5% in previously treated lung cancer patients. Historically, the five-year survival rate in advanced lung cancer patients in the United States has been around 5%. Keytruda’s five-year survival rates thus represent a huge improvement over these historical rates.

Meanwhile, follow up lung cancer data from the KEYNOTE-189 study showed that Keytruda in combination with Lilly’s Alimta (pemetrexed) and platinum chemotherapy reduced the risk of death by 44% compared with chemotherapy alone as a first-line treatment option for metastatic non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in patients with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations.

Bristol-Myers presented data from multiple studies on Opdivo, at ASCO including the longest follow-up data for the Opdivo plus Yervoy combination in advanced melanoma patients.  A five-year analysis of the phase I CA209-004 study showed that overall survival (OS) rates were stable at 57% in the Opdivo plus Yervoy arm, with a median follow-up of 43.1 months in all patients, at four years or longer. Moreover, data presented from multiple analyses of CheckMate - 067 study demonstrated that quality of life was maintained throughout the course of Opdivo plus Yervoy treatment and follow-up. These data clearly reinforce the long-term efficacy of the combination treatment in advanced melanoma.

Merck and partner AstraZeneca AZN announced detailed data from the phase III POLO study, evaluating their PARP inhibitor, Lynparza for germline BRCA-mutated metastatic pancreatic cancer patients who did not progress on chemotherapy. The data showed that at six months, more than twice as many patients treated with Lynparza were progression free compared to those on placebo. Lynparza reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 47%. Meanwhile, full data presented from phase III SOLO 3 study on Lynparza in advanced ovarian cancer demonstrated a 72% objective response rate compared to 51% of patients receiving chemotherapy

While Bristol-Myers sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), Merck has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). Amgen currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

Sanofi’s SNY phase III data on its investigational anti-CD38 monoclonal antibody isatuximab showed that isatuximab in combination with pomalidomide and dexamethasone led to an impressive 40% reduction in the risk of disease progression or death for patients with relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma.

AstraZeneca presented three-year overall survival (OS) results from a lung cancer study on Imfinzi, which showed that more than half of the unresectable, stage III NSCLC patient population treated with Imfinzi was alive following three years of treatment. J&J presented long-term data from two pivotal studies on Imbruvica and from a couple of studies on Darzalex.

Roche RHHBY presented additional results from a pre-specified exploratory analysis from the phase III IMpower150 study, which was used as a basis for the regulatory approval of a combination of Tecentriq, Avastin and chemotherapy in metastatic non-squamous NSCLC in December 2018. Novartis NVS presented data from studies on its new breast cancer drug, Kisqali and selective MET inhibitor capmatinib while Gilead provided update on its CAR T cell therapy candidate, KTE-X19

Celgene and Nektar Therapeutics also made some cancer data presentations at the meeting.

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