Bayer's Nexavar hits the brakes on thyroid cancer progression

CHICAGO--Bayer and Onyx appear poised to expand sales of Nexavar (sorafenib). Investigators told the crowd at ASCO Sunday morning that their therapy almost doubled progression-free survival of treatment-resistant thyroid cancer patients, from a median 5.8 months in the control arm to 10.8 months in the treatment group.

All of the patients in the study had seen their cancer recur after being treated with radioactive iodine and typically have little time left to live. The 5 months of PFS investigators reported at ASCO amounted to a 42% reduction in the risk of disease progression. Now the companies say they will file for an approval in the U.S. and Europe, with analysts looking for about $200 million a year in added sales.

For Bayer, which has been devoting a growing piece of its $4 billion R&D budget for oncology, the Nexavar data represent another forward advance on the cancer front. They've been rewarded with a growing market for Nexavar--now expected to rake in about $900 million this year--alongside new cancer franchises for Stivarga and the newly approved Xofigo, the radium-223 therapy that marks a pioneering first in the field of pinpoint delivery for radiopharmaceuticals. And they're mapping out more growth for Nexavar by tackling hard-to-treat cancer groups likely to benefit from the drug.

Both Nexavar and Stivarga are partnered with Onyx ($ONXX), which has seen its own fortunes bloom over the last two years.

David Weinreich, Bayer's vice president in charge of oncology drug development, says the pharma company has two midstage cancer drugs in the pipeline with another 10 early and preclinical candidates in the oncology pipeline.

- here's the press release