Pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) held an extensive R&D event for Wall Street analysts yesterday. The company provided considerable detail on its new drug pipeline, which includes some promising late-stage cancer drugs. The level of disclosure made it very interesting for investors, since big pharma, unlike small biotechs, tends to keep its developmental drug programs held close to the vest.

Bristol-Myers is a company that has had a major presence in the oncology area, which is that field of medicine concerned with studying and treating cancer. Important drugs such as Erbitux -- partnered with ImClone Systems (NASDAQ:IMCL) -- Paraplatin, and Taxol are part of its portfolio. However, generic competition quickly eroded Taxol sales in the U.S., and Paraplatin is now experiencing the same fate. To re-establish a leadership position in oncology, Bristol-Myers needs new drugs.

The company is clearly making progress in this area. During the presentation, it discussed several late-stage oncology drugs that are in development including Ixabepilone, Vinflunine, and MDX-010. The latter drug has enormous potential and is partnered with antibody leader Medarex (NASDAQ:MEDX).

Ixabepilone and Vinflunine are small molecule chemotherapy drugs. That's pretty standard fare for big pharma drug development. Many investors, however, want to invest in companies that develop targeted drugs that are selective for tumor cells while sparing healthy cells. Few would disagree that this is a goal to strive for, but the basic chemotherapy drugs still remain the backbone of cancer therapy in many areas. In more and more cases, the new, targeted drugs are being combined with chemotherapy, so I think there is still a need for incremental improvements.

MDX-010, on the other hand, represents a completely different approach to treating cancer. It was just a few weeks ago that the companies announced a partnership that could be worth several hundred million dollars to Medarex. The basic idea behind this drug is to allow the immune system to more effectively fight the tumor. Cancer drug development strategies that try to employ the powers of the immune system have yet to be effective, though there is preliminary evidence that the approach is becoming viable. This drug is in phase 3 trials for metastatic melanoma and could hit the market by late 2007.

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Fool contributor Charly Travers owns shares of Medarex. Charly is also an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers. If you'd like to see what David Gardner and his team of analysts have cooking, we invite you to take a risk-free trial with no obligation.