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Celgene keeps biotech spotlight with sanguine Abraxane data in pancreatic cancer

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Celgene CEO Bob Hugin is leading a push to rapidly grow the major drugmaker, keeping the company atop lists of go-to partners among biotechs. Relying on an expanded market presence for the next-gen chemo drug Abraxane to fuel its chief's big plans, the company last night announced some impressive results from a study of the treatment in pancreatic cancer.

With clear survival benefits in patients with tough-to-treat pancreatic tumors, Abraxane could very well penetrate a significant and underserved market that has seen drug trial failures overwhelm successes. And Celgene ($CELG)--which picked up the product in its $2.9 billion buyout of Abraxis--would further build its war chest for financing more deals and continue to outfox larger drugmakers in partnering on hot new assets from biotech outfits.

At the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference this month, Hugin highlighted the expansion of Abraxane into the pancreatic cancer market as one of the key catalysts for doubling sales at Celgene. Driven largely by sales of the blockbuster cancer drug Revlimid, Celgene has increased its capacity for deals and become a preferred partner among biotechs, with the company's $350 million buyout of the startup Avila last year and long-term commitment to Agios Pharmaceuticals luring others to the bargaining table.

In the closely watched Phase III "MPACT" study, Celgene showed that patients with aggressive pancreatic cancer on Abraxane and gemcitabine had median overall survival of 8.5 months compared with 6.7 months in patients on gemcitabine alone. As Forbes reported, this 7.7-week improvement fell in line with expectations for what a successful outcome would look like. And Abraxane further impressed study investigators with patients on Abraxane having a 28% reduced risk of death during the trial.

Celgene appears on track to seek approvals for Abraxane in pancreatic cancer before the end of this year, setting the stage for the drug to live up to blockbuster expectations. It also bodes well for every biotech chief out there who is hoping to reach into Celgene's pockets via a deal. Those pockets could get a lot deeper.  

- here's the release
- check out the Forbes article
- see Bloomberg's report

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