Cancer immunotherapies in vogue as specialists seek a "cure"

Now that Provenge and Yervoy have been approved, specialists are keying in on a new generation of immunotherapies that promise to change the standard of care for cancer. As Stephen Hodi, director of the melanoma center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, tells the Wall Street Journal: "If we are ever going to use the word 'cure', the immune system is going to have to come into play."

That message has not been lost on drug developers, which are pushing ahead on 23 experimental immunotherapies. The Journal singles out Roche and GlaxoSmithKline among the giants in the field, while Oncothyreon's partnership with Merck KGaA and Lexington, MA-based Agenus ($AGEN) gets an honorable mention among the biotechs working in the field.

Some analysts may consider Agenus an odd choice to highlight. The biotech used to be called Antigenics, which had been pushing ahead on Oncophage in the U.S. and Europe even after it ran into trouble in the clinic and then was handed a rejection by regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, causing havoc for its share price. Oncophage is approved in Russia, which has done little for its reputation. Agenus's shares closed at 79 cents yesterday.

Whatever Agenus's fate, Yervoy and Provenge are both fetching very high prices, a fact that's not lost on developers who have to consider their long-term reimbursement potential as they hammer out their development strategy.

- here's the story from the Wall Street Journal

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