ASCO 2012 Preview

It's almost time Fools. The American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, the most important cancer meeting of the year, starts tomorrow.

Abstracts for the meeting came out a few weeks ago, giving investors a preview of what to expect during the five-day-long conference.

A lung cancer winner
Lung cancer is notoriously hard to treat. Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals' Nexavar just joined the graveyard last week. But a compound from Array BioPharma (Nasdaq: ARRY  ) and AstraZeneca is looking pretty promising.

In a phase 2 trial, selumetinib combined with Sanofi's Taxotere increased overall survival by 4.2 months compared with Taxotere alone. That's insanely impressive, given that it nearly doubled the survival of the control arm. The data aren't statistically significant, but that's OK for an interim look at a phase 2 trial. The data clearly shows the drug is working.

Expanding the market
Seattle Genetics
' (Nasdaq: SGEN  ) Adcetris is already approved for two different types of lymphomas, but to hit blockbuster status it'll need to expand into other tumor types. The company is presenting data testing the drug in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and has another presentation looking at CD30 expression in a bunch of different types of solid tumors. Adcetris works by attaching to the CD30 protein, so if Seattle Genetics can find the protein in other tumor types, the drug might work there, too.

Back from the dead?
ARIAD Pharmaceuticals
(Nasdaq: ARIA  ) and Merck's (NYSE: MRK  ) chances for getting ridaforolimus approved as a treatment for sarcomas seems unlikely after a 13-1 vote by an advisory panel recommending that the drug not be approved.

But ridaforolimus doesn't look quite dead yet. In a smaller lung cancer trial than Array's, ridaforolimus produced an overall survival of 18 months compared to five months for the placebo group. That looks outstanding, but I would expect the gap to narrow a little as more patients read out. The difference in progression free survival was only four months versus two months, favoring ridaforolimus.

ARIAD also has a leukemia drug called ponatinib, which looks interesting and worth keeping an eye on.

Safety, safety, safety
The cat's out of the bag on AVEO Oncology and Astellas Pharma's tivozanib, which beat Nexavar in a head-to-head trial in kidney cancer. Since Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE  ) Sutent is the market leader and wasn't included in the trial, the side-effect profile of tivozanib will be very important in dictating how well tivozanib can compete with Sutent.

Going for hit two
Onyx has been a one-hit wonder for years, but it looks like it'll be able to expand beyond Nexavar with its multiple myeloma drug carfilzomib. The drug will face an advisory panel on June 20, but with so many oncology doctors running around the meeting, investors should get a good idea of how that meeting will go from the presentation of its pivotal phase 2 trial for patients who failed Takeda's Velcade or Celgene's Thalomid or Revlimid.

More data to come?
The deadline for submitting abstracts for the meeting was Feb. 1, so the data we have right now from the abstracts is only current though then. For ongoing trials, companies can, and usually do, present the currently available data.

And even for trials that have already completed, the presentations are important because not all the data is included in the abstracts. Sometimes the finer points, like AVEO's safety data, are just as important as the top-line data.

Check back next week for the Fool's take on the most interesting presentations at ASCO.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Pfizer. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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