Pfizer's Wonder Drug That Wasn't

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By my count, Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE  ) cancer drug Sutent has failed in as many cancer types as it has shown a meaningful effect in. The drug works against kidney cancer, gastrointestinal stromal cancer, and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, but has failed to show an effect in liver, breast, and now lung cancer.

The drugmaker said yesterday that Sutent failed to improve survival in lung cancer patients when combined with Roche and OSI Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: OSIP  ) Tarceva compared to Tarceva alone. The combination product did extend the time before the tumor started to grow again, but it's survival that patients -- and the Food and Drug Administration -- care about.

Batting .500 isn't so bad for baseball players or cancer therapies. The problem is that the lung and breast cancer markets are large markets. Gastrointestinal stromal cancer? Not so much.

Adding just liver cancer on top of kidney cancer helped Bayer and Onyx Pharmaceuticals' (Nasdaq: ONXX  ) grow Nexavar from $165 million in all of 2006 to $236 million in just the most recent quarter.

To hit the big time -- think Eli Lilly's (NYSE: LLY  ) Gemzar that topped out at $1.7 billion in 2008 before seeing generic competition -- Pfizer needs to expand into at least one major market.

After multiple failures on its own and in combination with other drugs, expanding into breast cancer doesn't seem likely. There may be some hope for Sutent as a lung cancer treatment because the drug was able to extend the time it took for the tumors to resume growing. If the drugmaker can find a subset of patients with a certain genetic makeup that makes their tumors more responsive to Sutent, Pfizer could get approval for treating just that subset of patients.

Pfizer will need to run another clinical trial, but the financial benefits could be worth the added cost. Any added revenue would make this wonder drug a little more wonderful.

Check out Eric Bleeker's call in today's buy opportunity.

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

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  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2010, at 3:00 PM, RJSteffens wrote:

    That is a shame to hear about a study that failed to meet its endpoint. The brave people that volunteer deserve better. Hopefully, much was learned and science progressed. Pfizer may also begin to evaluate other drugs or vaccines under development by small biotechs to help them treat breast cancer patients, or other cancers that express HER2/neu. The Pfizer VP of oncology related strategic relationships and partnerships recently took a scientific advisor role at Generex Bio. I talked to him and wrote about it here at the Fool's CAPS blog :

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