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The full data from a clinical trial testing Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE ) Sutent in pancreatic cancer was truly amazing. The drug more than doubled the time it took for the tumor to start growing again, and Sutent also improved survival of the patients.
Unfortunately, it's not going to do very much for the stock or Pfizer's bottom line.
The fact that the drug worked on the rare form of pancreatic cancer was already known. Nearly a year ago, an independent data-monitoring committee stopped the trial because it was clear that the drug was working quite well; it's not ethical to give patients a placebo when it's clear that there's a treatment that can help them.
While the magnitude of the success is great for patients, I'm not sure it will increase sales more than if the magnitude had been smaller because there aren't many options for patients. The important thing is that the drug works, which should lead to regulatory approvals and doctors prescribing the drug. Without much competition, that magnitude becomes less important than it is for something like lung cancer where Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY ) and Eli Lilly's (NYSE: LLY ) Erbitux will fight against OSI Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: OSIP ) Tarceva, AstraZeneca's (NYSE: AZN ) Iressa, and Roche's Avastin.
Pfizer's other problem is that there just aren't that many patients who have this rare form of pancreatic cancer. Despite the publicity that pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors might have gotten after Steve Jobs of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) was diagnosed with it, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors are still a rare form of cancer that only affects two to four in a million people. The positive trial results will add a little to Sutent's sales, but the drug's competition with Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: ONXX ) Nexavar in kidney cancer will have a greater effect on sales.
If you're an optimist, you can call the data a moral victory -- especially after Sutent has failed to show a meaningful effect in other cancer types. Unfortunately, it's hard to make money with moral victories.