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Pfizer Goes for a One-Two Blockbuster Knockout

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Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) is going for the one-two punch in kidney cancer patients. The pharma giant already has Sutent approved to treat kidney cancer, and now it's hoping to follow up that treatment with axitinib.

The company previously announced last November that axitinib had passed its phase 3 trial testing it against Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: ONXX  ) Nexavar. But yesterday it filled in some details ahead of the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting next month.

Axitinib extended progression-free survival of kidney cancer patients by two months compared with Nexavar. Patients taking Nexavar saw their tumors begin to grow again in 4.7 months while axitinib delayed the progression for 6.7 months. While two months isn't much, the patients in the study are fairly advanced, having already failed a previous treatment including cytokines or Sutent.

Novartis' (NYSE: NVS  ) Afinitor is also approved for use after treatment with Nexavar or Sutent in kidney cancer patients. Afinitor posted a 4.9 month delay in progression-free survival in its own pivotal trial, but it's hard to compare the two trials since they enrolled different patients. For instance, in the Afinitor trial, patients could have taken both Sutent and Nexavar sequentially before entering the trial.

Pfizer might be setting itself up for a one-two punch from Sutent followed by axitinib, but it'll have to do a head-to-head trial against Afinitor in order to secure axitinib's place the treatment regimen.

Complicating things further, AVEO Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: AVEO  ) is running a head-to-head trial comparing its tivozanib against Nexavar in kidney cancer patients. Its trial could be successful, but unless the data is superb, it may be difficult to know where it fits into the treatment options without a head-to-head trial against axitinib, Afinitor, and/or Sutent.

Kidney cancer may be teetering, but we're far from a knockout punch.

Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended Pfizer and Novartis. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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