ASCO: Lilly tracks partial melanoma response, Celldex shares sink

Last night's data dump ahead of ASCO produced a treasure trove of information, but few signs of any dramatic leap or pratfall. Among the highlights:

Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) reported that a handful of patients in a small mid-stage study of its melanoma drug tasisulam demonstrated a partial response--in which a tumor or lesion shrank--to the therapy. Tested in patients with metastatic melanoma, a virtual death sentence, 24 of 68 patients experienced no disease progression after two treatment cycles, 25 saw their condition worsen during treatment, and 11 couldn't be fully evaluated. Median overall survival hit 9.6 months. Release

Exelixis' (NASDAQ: EXEL) VEGF blocker XL184-which is partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb-helped a majority of patients fight the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma. Patients who had no prior therapy went 16 weeks without disease progression, slightly more than twice as long as the patients who had been previously treated. And 82 percent demonstrated a response, with at least partial tumor shrinkage. In addition to VEGF, XL184 also blocks mesenchymal epithelial transition growth factor, which has been linked to faster tumor growth. Story 

Eisai released some promising data on its cancer drug eribulin, with positive results in three trials for breast, colon and urinary cancer. Twenty-one percent of the 81 breast cancer patients in one trial demonstrated a response to the drug, while close to half of the sarcoma patients went three months before tumors began to grow again. Slightly more than a third of the 40 patients treated for urological cancer demonstrated a response. Eisai has already filed for approval in the U.S., Europe and Japan with hopes of seeing the drug go on to achieve blockbuster status. Report

Celldex Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CLDX) reported that a small mid-stage study of an experimental brain cancer vaccine demonstrated that a solid majority of patients--70 percent--were alive and free of any sign of disease progression after 5.5 months. The developer's chief medical officer told Reuters that usually only 40 percent of brain cancer victims would be at that mark after 5.5 months, but analysts and investors appeared rather skeptical and Celldex shares dropped 20 percent in after-hours trading. Report

A Phase II study of Amgen's (NASDAQ: AMGN) AMG 386 for recurrent ovarian cancer demonstrated an improvement in median progression-free survival when it was combined with chemotherapy compared with chemotherapy alone. At a high dose patients achieved a 7.2-month median for progression-free survival compared with 5.7 months for the lower dose and 4.6 months for the group receiving only chemotherapy. The therapy works by stunting the growth of blood vessels to tumors. Story

Bristol-Myers Squibb released new data showing a modest benefit for its lung cancer drug ipilimumab. Median progression-free survival was slightly longer for that drug in combination with chemotherapy compared to a group which had been restricted to chemotherapy alone. Story

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