Biotech Investors Eye Potential Winners at ESMO

Biotech investors awaited news on a number of promising cancer treatments at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress this week in Milan. Here are some breakthroughs that caught the attention of investment analysts.

Biotech investors awaited news on a number of promising cancer treatments at the annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress this week in Milan. Here are some companies that generated the most interest among investment analysts:

Roche Holding AG’s experimental breast cancer drug T-DM1 was in the spotlight after Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan talked up the results of the clinical trials ahead of the conference. "I think a lot of people will be very excited about what we have to present," Schwan said in an interview with Reuters. "I think the T-DM1 results are stunning.”

T-DM1, an antibody drug conjugate of Herceptin, is expected to show higher efficacy and lower toxicity than Herceptin. What remains unclear is whether T-DM1 does a better job than Herceptin in preventing tumors from spreading. Herceptin currently produces $5 billion in annual worldwide sales, and Roche’s Genetech unit hopes T-DM1 will eventually succeed that drug. ImmunoGen Inc. (NASDAQ: IMGN) is a collaborator on the drug. ImmunoGen’s shares were at $7.53 Monday.

Roche is also seeking approval in the European Union this year for its bevacizumab drug to treat ovarian cancer. Earlier trials showed the combination of Avastin (bevacizumab) and chemotherapy, followed by the continued use of bevacizumab alone, increased the time women with previously untreated ovarian cancer lived without the disease progressing, compared to chemotherapy alone. Roche plans to file for approval in the U.S. next year.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) said its late-stage trial of Abiraterone acetate for patients with metastatic advanced prostate cancer showed a significant improvement in overall survival rates, compared to patients treated with prednisone/prednisolone plus placebo.

"Abiraterone acetate has the potential to meet a significant unmet need, so this news will be incredibly important to prostate cancer patients and their families," said Johann S. de Bono, MD, FRCP, MSc, Ph.D., one of the lead investigators, in a statement.

The drug was so successful in a Phase III trial that in September an independent data-monitoring committee allowed all patients on placebo to be switched over to the drug, which was given with low-dose prednisone. J&J Chief Executive Bill Weldon called the trial results "exciting" and said the company hopes to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval "soon." Shares of J&J were at $63.11.

Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE: LLY) and Germany’s Merck KGaA announced the experimental drug Erbitux (cetuximab) delayed the spread of breast cancer by about two months in a study of women with a type of aggressive tumor that is especially difficult to treat. A mid-stage trial found that cetuximab, combined with chemotherapy, delayed tumor progression from a median of 1.5 months to 3.7 months, the companies said. In the study, 20% of patients saw their cancer shrink or disappear, compared with just 10% on chemotherapy alone. Lilly’s shares were at $37.20.

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) will be presenting data on cancer treatments across 10 types of rare and difficult-to-treat tumors. The company said its experimental drug PF-299 has been shown to stop lung cancer from progressing when given as a first-line treatment to patients with advanced disease. Almost 85% of patients with EGFR mutations were progression-free for at least nine months and 57% of patients overall were progression-free, according to results from a mid-stage study. Pfizer will also be presenting several studies of its PF-00299804 treatment for non-small-cell lung cancer. Its shares were at $17.38.