Analysts offer giddy forecasts for booming cancer immunotherapy pipeline

Over the past year the excitement in biopharma R&D circles about the therapeutic punch of cancer immunotherapies has reached fever pitch, and the intense R&D focus hasn't escaped the notice of top analysts who are making some megablockbuster projections on the commercial impact these new drugs are likely to have.

Yervoy, one of the pioneering immunotherapies on the market, has produced some jaw-dropping success for a significant minority of the melanoma patients who have been treated, with close to one in four of 1,800 advanced patients alive three years after they started therapy. The theory is that new and better immunotherapies in the pipeline can have a bigger impact across a range of tumor types, with new combination treatments offering big survival benefits to a new generation of cancer patients.

"That these agents can produce a long-term stable response in multiple tumor types is a whole new approach to treating cancer," Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center, tells The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal piece highlights a giddy projection from Leerink Swann analysts that up to half of all cancer treatments will include an immunotherapy in 10 years, with tens of billions of dollars at stake for the top companies in the field. At Citi, the estimate reaches up to 60% of all cancer meds.

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Merck ($MRK) and Roche ($RHHBY) are the three current leaders in this field. But others will be making high-priority bids to play catch-up, with R&D groups at places like AstraZeneca's ($AZN) subsidiary MedImmune betting big on early-stage programs with promise.

Ben Hirschler at Reuters highlighted MedImmune's MEDI4376, a PD-L1 candidate which is being matched up with Iressa and the experimental tremelimumab, an antibody.

For some companies, including Merck, the spotlight includes a bigger role for devoted teams working on a much shorter development timeline than many drugs face. And as a result of the new focus on Wall Street, their success or failure could make or break the achievement of badly needed sales growth.

- here's the story from The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)
- read the report from Reuters

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