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Positive Cancer Trial Results Offset a COVID-19 Flop for Regeneron and Sanofi

By Cory Renauer – Apr 27, 2020 at 4:05PM

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The companies shared good news about lung cancer patients treated with Libtayo, and bad news about a potential treatment for COVID-19.

Monday was an awfully big day for Regeneron (REGN 0.60%) and its collaboration partner, Sanofi (SNY 2.37%). The biopharmaceuticals reported successful results from a clinical trial with lung cancer patients, and negative results from a different study with COVID-19 patients. 

Kevzara disappoints 

Preliminary results from a clinical trial of Kevzara in severe-to-critical COVID-19 patients were not quite what the companies had hoped for.

Kevzara, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment, dials down the immune system, which is usually a terrible idea for patients trying to fight off an infection. But in some people, COVID-19 can whip the immune system into a lethal frenzy -- a response called a cytokine storm. Last month, studies were initiated to see whether Kevzara could provide those patients with a survival benefit.

Person in lab with a flask of purple stuff

Image source: Getty Images.

An independent data monitoring committee compared results from patients receiving Kevzara and those receiving a placebo, and found that among those with severe cases of COVID-19 -- as opposed to the even more at-risk "critical" group -- the outcomes were about the same.

"Severe" was defined as requiring some oxygen, but not ventilation. Approximately 80% of those patients were discharged, 10% succumbed to their illness, and 10% remain hospitalized. But given that Kevzara proved no better than a placebo for that group, the committee recommended the trial continue with only critical patients -- those who required either ventilators, high-flow oxygenation, or treatment in an intensive care unit.

Libtayo gets it done

Libtayo is a drug from Regeneron and Sanofi that works along the same pathway as Keytruda, a highly successful immunotherapy from Merck (MRK 0.96%). Independent data monitors with an eye on lung cancer patients receiving either Libtayo or standard chemotherapy halted a late-stage clinical trial early so everyone in the control group could switch over and receive Libtayo, which was demonstrating a clear survival benefit.

Libtayo as a monotherapy reduced patients' risk of death by 32% compared to standard chemotherapy for patients with tumors that tested positive for PD-L1 on at least half of their cells. These results are impressive, and will most likely lead to a label expansion and billions in additional revenue each year for Sanofi and Regeneron.

Cory Renauer has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Sanofi Stock Quote
$40.12 (2.37%) $0.93
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Stock Quote
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
$739.54 (0.60%) $4.41
Merck & Co., Inc. Stock Quote
Merck & Co., Inc.
$88.39 (0.96%) $0.84

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