Bristol-Myers pushes blockbuster cancer drug prospect into ASCO spotlight

When Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) agreed to buy up Medarex for $2.4 billion three years ago, everyone was focused on the fate of ipilimumab, the melanoma antibody treatment that would ultimately go on to a celebrated approval as Yervoy. But BMS also laid claim to another antibody--BMS-936558, partnered with Ono Pharmaceuticals--in the buyout. And the big biotech company now has high hopes of making this the latest pearl to add to its string of ASCO jewels.

While Yervoy revved up the bodies' T cells to attack cancer, BMS-936558 zeroes in on a cellular switch identified as PD-1, a facilitator for cancer cells attempting to evade destruction by the immune system. In an in-depth feature from Bloomberg's Robert Langreth, the company lays out plans to add to its portfolio of data as it moves the treatment to center stage at the upcoming ASCO meeting in Chicago. And it's earning some rave reviews among analysts tracking the drug.

"It is the early stage of a whole new field of cancer therapy," Seamus Fernandez, an analyst at Leerink Swann, tells Bloomberg. Fernandez estimates that the drug, a likely combo therapy that could go on to treat a number of cancers, could earn as much as $4 billion a year for BMS, which recently expanded its marketing rights to the treatment.

The preliminary data has been intriguing. Initial data indicates that the antibody shrunk tumors in a significant minority of melanoma patients, as well as groups of lung and kidney cancer victims. And BMS is aggressively planning a slate of late-stage studies to leapfrog its way to a potential blockbuster approval.

"After many years of negative studies, the idea of reactivating the immune system against cancer seems to be paying off," Yale's Roy Herbst tells Langreth.

BMS isn't alone in the field. It will race against Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and Teva, which have their own PD-1 programs in the clinic.

- here's the article from Bloomberg

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