Beyond Provenge -- The Next Hot Cancer Drug?

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Now that Dendreon (Nasdaq: DNDN  ) has delivered favorable results for its experimental prostate cancer treatment, Provenge, and as much as seven-bagger results for recent investors, those investors looking for the next big thing in prostate cancer treatment will undoubtedly ask: What's next?

There are plenty of choices. Prospects include drugs approved for other types of cancer, such as Sutent (kidney and gastrointestinal) from Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) and Sprycel (leukemia) from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY  ) , as well as new compounds from small and large companies. The research also includes non-cancer drugs like GlaxoSmithKline's (NYSE: GSK  ) Avodart, which is currently used for treating the benign swelling of the prostate.

Sprycel is being tested against prostate cancer in combination with Taxotere (from sanofi-aventis (NYSE: SNY  ) ) and the steroid prednisone. Pfizer's Sutent is being tested with just prednisone. Roche's Avastin, currently used for colorectal, breast, and lung cancers, is also being tested.

However, there's a lot of heartache in prostate cancer research. For instance, last year, Cell Genesys stopped two phase 3 trials for Gvax, an experimental immunotherapy prostate cancer treatment. Dendreon also saw its share of heartache when the Food and Drug Administration turned down the company's original application for Provenge.

More choices
Dendreon expects to file a revised application with the FDA during the fourth quarter, and the agency will probably issue a verdict next year. That means that Provenge would likely be the next major prostate cancer treatment available.

If approved, Provenge would compete with Taxotere for treating prostate cancer that has metastasized and no longer responds to the many hormone therapy drugs on the market. Hormone therapy decreases the body's production of testosterone or blocks the prostate cancer cell's ability to use it.

Taxotere plus prednisone had an extended median survival of 2.5 extra months compared to men taking prednisone with another drug, mitoxantrone, but it has significant side effects. For comparison, Provenge had a median 4.1 extra months of survival versus those receiving a placebo, with fewer severe side effects.

Investors beware, however! Because Provenge and Taxotere haven't been tested side-by-side yet, comparing survival benefits based on those clinical trials is iffy.

A different approach
Provenge doesn't prevent the disease, unfortunately. Instead, it uses the body's defense system to fight the cancer. Dendreon harvests certain cells from a patient's blood, fortifies them to provide a better defense against prostate cancer cells, and then infuses them back into the body.

The lure of immunotherapies like Provenge lies not only in their effectiveness, if Provenge is typical, but also in their relative convenience and side effect profile versus traditional cancer drugs.

Investing in the next treatment
The prostate cancer research story outlines the dilemma for investors who must decide not only what science looks best but how much risk they are willing to tolerate.

A long-term Dendreon shareholder would have had to be a true believer, have the patience of Job, or be the world's greatest market timer. In the nearly nine years since Dendreon went public, shares have bounced from the mid-$20s to bus fare, with many dramatic swings.

For more cautious investors, a company like Pfizer or Bristol-Myers Squibb might be the safer choice. A failed prostate cancer clinical trial for Sutent or Sprycel would have limited downside because those drugs treat other cancers and the companies have other revenue sources. The upside of a successful clinical trial is the adding of potentially significant sales.

There's no easy formula here. Investing in cancer therapies requires patience -- or the ability to guess which small biotech will come out with the latest hot news.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Robert Steyer doesn't own shares of any companies cited in this article. Glaxo is a former Income Investor recommendation. Pfizer is an Inside Value pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 04, 2009, at 3:18 PM, SpiderJack wrote:

    Nice article. Thanks.

    The best coming drug that could be even better than Provenge is Stimuvax to treat liung cancer.

    The Stimuvax drug is in the 3rd year of testing in global phase 3 trials by Merck KGaA.

    The company to wartch is ONTY. ONTY will gain double digit developent royalties of a $ Multi Billion blockbuster if stimuvax gains approval. ONTY has less than 20 Mil shares O/S.. The math points to a staggering impact of a successful Stimuvax/

    watch ONTY. I was in DNDN in the 5's. I sold at $25/

    I think both ONTY and DNDN will go to $18 in the near term. Thanks for your article.

  • Report this Comment On May 04, 2009, at 3:33 PM, FrankMom wrote:

    Regarding DNDN's Provenge, you left out that Provenge is now being tested for benign prostate enlargement, and will be tried for earlier intervention in Prostate Cancer. DNDN also has a treatment for breast cancer - Neuvenge. And there are also treatments being tested for other cancer tumors. Dendreon is not a one-trick pony - but they will have a big fight on their hands against the chemo/radiation big pharma opposition. The Cancer cabal says it wants to eliminate cancer, but does it really? What about when it affects their pocketbook?

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2009, at 4:23 PM, mbarnes01 wrote:

    while the industry makes very slow progress everyone should be following the data on vitamin D in cancer prevention and treatment, the data are overwhelming. Take a look at for some good summaries of the data

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